Elphinstone Road stampede: Western Railway report blames rains and rumours, absolves authorities
A Western Railway report has pinned the blame for the Elphinstone Road stampede on rumours and rains, ruling out the issue of poor infrastructure or negligence on part of the railways staf.
Two weeks after deadly stampede on Elphinstone Road-Parel foot-over bridge in Mumbai, the Western Railway, in a report, has pinned the blame on rumours and rains for the tragedy, ruling out the issue of poor infrastructure or negligence on part of the railways staff.
Twenty-three lives were lost on 29 September due to the tragic incident that occurred on the narrow bridge that connects Elphinstone Road station on the Western Railway with Parel station on the Central Railway.
After gathering statements from nearly 30 survivors, a high-level Western Railway committee absolved the railways authorities. "The committee found that the cause of the incident were rumours and rain. The confusion between 'phool' and 'pul' resulted in the chaos. No one was responsible for it," Western Railway chief public relations officer Ravinder Bhakar was quoted as saying by Mumbai Mirror.
The report, however, makes several suggestions in order to prevent similar incidents in future. These include installation of additional CCTVs, removal of all encroachments, and a ban on heavy luggage during peak hours. The report, which was compiled by five senior railways officials, blamed rain and not the poor infrastructure in and around the two stations.
The report also suggested improving the clarity (resolution) of CCTV cameras and that the footage should be accessible to the station master, relocation of the ticket booking office at the Elphinstone Road station and deployment of Railway Protection Force (RPF) during peak hours.
The committee also proposed utilisation of the booking office space to upgrade the foot-over bridge and usage of wireless handsets among the authorities for better communication. The report also said that if the India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicts heavy rainfall and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) also warn about the same, the station should announce the update to avoid chaos.
"We will study all the recommendations by committee and implement most of the suggestions as early as possible," Bhakar told Firstpost.
One of the survivors had earlier told the RPF that it was a flower vendor's 'phool gir gaya' (flowers have fallen) cry which was misinterpreted by the commuters as 'pul gir gaya' (the bridge has collapsed).
Meanwhile, defending the Western Railway, the CPRO said that a new bridge has been sanctioned. "It's not like we ignored warnings before the incident," the CPRO said. Acknowledging the lack of trained staff to handle difficult situations like the 29 September incident, Bhakar said, "The survivors who spoke to us said that the rumour was created all of a sudden. The people were unprepared for the rains. In seven to eight minutes, this rumour turned the situation into a stampede."
He said: "The infrastructure is inadequate. There are many reasons. The work is not happening at the rate it should. The reason is that we get about two and a half hours block to work."
He praised the authorities' move to bring foot-over bridges under the safety category from the earlier 'passenger amenity' category and confirmed that getting approvals to improve the foot-over bridge would, hence, become easier.
Hours after the tragedy, the Western Railway had released a statement saying that the rains were "unprecedented" and that commuters at the station "were caught unaware". Western Railway maintained its stand in the recent report as well saying, railway commuters, 'unprepared for the rains', gathered on the Elphinstone-Parel foot overbridge, using the bridge's roof to shelter themselves from the sudden rain.
"There was no structural damage to the foot-over bridge which can be attributed to the stampede," the release said, India Today reported. It mentioned that the bridge was five meters wide.
The railways had also said CCTV cameras would be installed in all the suburban trains in Mumbai within 15 months, and subsequently, across the country.
The incident had prompted Railway Minister Piyush Goyal to order a high-level inquiry. He also assured to widen foot-over bridges across the suburban railway system. A 2016 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report had specifically highlighted the structural defect in the Elphinstone Road-Parel foot-over bridge.
We are turning a 150 year old convention on its head, hereafter, FOBs (Foot Over Bridges) will be deemed mandatory not a passenger amenity.
— Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal) September 30, 2017
The width of the bridge had been a concern raised by several commuters prior to the incident. "We had given a letter to the railway administration six months ago with a request to do something to improve the shoddy state of affairs here," a commuter had told PTI.
Former railway minister Suresh Prabhu had also released Rs 11.8 crore for building a new foot-over bridge in the area after the Shiv Sena drew his attention to the matter. However, the project never took off and its current status is a mystery.
With inputs from Sanjay Sawant
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