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Elphinstone Road stampede: Political parties play blame game as citizen discontent follows Mumbai tragedy

This year's monsoon has been particularly harsh on Mumbai, as it has exposed the megapolis' decaying infrastructure over and over again, starting from the 29 August floods. The worst was reserved for the last, with 23 people tragically losing their lives in a stampede at Elphinstone Road station on Friday caused by a sudden spell of rains.

Blame game, citizen discontent follow stampede

Since Friday, accusations of political apathy towards transport infrastructure have flown thick and fast, as have laments on poor town planning over several decades. The Shiv Sena, the BJP's oldest ally, termed the stampede a 'public massacre'.

The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), for their part, demanded the resignation of Railway Minister Piyush Goyal. Notably, Goyal took over the ministry barely a month ago on 3 September.

Elphinstone Road stampede. PTI

Elphinstone Road stampede. PTI

Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil also sought a criminal case against the railway administration, as per a report in Hindustan Times.

However, charges of criminal negligence can be difficult to prove in court if no specific lapse on the part of the railways can be pointed out, News18 quoted retired judges BN Srikrishna and Mukul Mudgal as saying.

Regular commuters and citizen activists have castigated the railways for their unresponsive attitude and pointed to frequent complaints about the narrow foot-over bridge.

An article in Scroll said that nearly 100 tweets since 2013 had raised a red flag over the bridge and warned of impending disaster and that some of them received standard bureaucratic responses from the railways.

The Western Railways cited heavy rains as the reason for the stampede. "It seems that due to sudden thundershower type rains, a stampede-like situation arose on the north side foot-over bridge connecting Elphinstone Road and Parel stations at about 10.30 am," it said in a statement.

Tempers also ran high on social media, with people sharply divided on the blame for the tragedy. Amrita Bhinder, a spokesperson of the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) drew sharp reactions on Twitter after she suggested that people too should take responsibility for the stampede.

Government announces slew of safety measures

A day after the stampede, the railways announced a slew of measures to make suburban travel safer in Mumbai. It announced that foot-over bridges would be given the highest priority. According to the press release of the railways, only the first bridge was treated as essential earlier, and subsequent bridges were treated as passenger amenities.

Further, in the meeting, General Managers of Railway zones have been delegated powers for safety related measures. The General Managers would be expected to inform the Financial Commissioner 'within a week of sanction for provision,' and the Financial Commissioner is expected to confirm the sanction within 15 days.

Further, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal announced that multidisciplinary teams consisting of civic officials along with officials of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority would visit all 126 railway stations in Mumbai and its satellite cities.

The civic officials will be from all the relevant municipal bodies, including the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation, Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation.

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the next of kin of the people who lost their lives in the stampede.

Possible solutions 

Commuters and urban governance experts have stressed the need for better urban planning to prevent overcrowding in trains.

South Central Mumbai, which includes Elphinstone Road and Lower Parel has seen a huge expansion, and many say the transport infrastructure has failed to keep pace.

According to a report in Economic Times, office space in this locality was less than 30 lakh square feet in 2005, and increased to more than 1.3 crore square feet by 2015.

Speaking to Firstpost, NGO Praja Foundation's project director Milind Mhaske had pointed to the need to reduce the overwhelming north-south axis of the city.

A Bombay First-McKinsey report also called for developing business districts like the Bandra-Kurla complex and the business district in Vashi-Belapur to allow crowds to spread out across the city.

The proposed Parel terminus is another major step which can help to decongest rail transport in the area. The project will involve widening the platforms by 10 metres and constructing an additional 15-coach platform and is expected to decongest the common bridge, where the stampede took place.

Other proposed measures which can ameliorate the situation in the long term are additional escalators sanctioned at crowded stations in Mumbai and installing CCTVs in trains with a monitoring mechanisms.

However, all of these measures will have to be taken with unprecedented alacrity if the dangerous overcrowding is to be reduced in the near future.

With inputs from agencies


Updated Date: Oct 02, 2017 14:24 PM

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