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Elphinstone Road stampede: Commuters, urban governance experts lament poor transport infrastructure

The stampede at Elphinstone Road railway station on Friday morning has elicited livid reactions from people all over Mumbai. However, as can be seen from reactions of several regular commuters, many feel this was a disaster waiting to happen.

Just days ago, senior journalist Santosh Andhale had tweeted a photo of the bridge connecting Elphinstone Road and Parel stations to highlight the overcrowding there.

Speaking to Firstpost, Andhale said, "On Wednesday, I was walking from Elphinstone Road towards Parel when I saw the huge crowd there. The bridge is jam-packed during rush hour even on normal days, but on that day, it seemed particularly bad. So I clicked a couple of photos and posted them on social media. Unfortunately, my fears came true."

In recent years, many large office buildings have been constructed in the locality close to Elphinstone Road station. Referring to the changing profile of the area, Andhale further said, "I have been travelling regularly to this station for several years. There has certainly been a huge increase in crowds at the station of late, because of the new commercial buildings which have been constructed."

 Elphinstone Road stampede: Commuters, urban governance experts lament poor transport infrastructure

Crowds outside the Elphinstone Road railway station. Jay Mehta/Firstpost

Citizens have blamed the railways for the extremely narrow bridge on the station which is unable to cope with the enormous footfall there. Activist Samir Zaveri agreed, "It is indeed the responsibility of the railways to build proper bridges which can be used by commuters."

Milind Mhaske, the project director of Praja Foundation — an organisation working on urban governance — also said that the railways is responsible for the maintenance of the bridges on suburban stations. However, Mhaske points to the need to fix accountability on other authorities as well. "It is not enough to merely blame the railways. There has also been a major failure of town planning, as the city of Mumbai continues to have a strong north-south axis. Even today, people overwhelmingly travel from the north of the city to the south for work, which leads to large-scale congestion. The state government will have to take some of the blame for the lack of town planning."

Similar concerns have been voiced by other citizen groups as well. For example, a Bombay First-McKinsey report had mentioned the large crowding on the north-south axis and a lack of east-west connectivity as key problems plaguing transport in the city.

According to Mhaske, various authorities in Mumbai have given short shrift to public transport. "In terms of population, a very small percentage of the people in Mumbai use private vehicles. Yet, a disproportionately large amount of policy attention is given to private vehicles."

Mhaske also cited Singapore's example of issuing a certificate of entitlement (COEs) allowing anyone to register a vehicle. Such certificates are issued through competitive bidding for a limited period of time. The objective of these certificates is to reduce ownership of private vehicles on the island which has limited supply.

"However, it seems that the authorities in Mumbai are moving in the opposite direction and prioritising private transport instead. For example, a coastal road is given priority over improving the condition of the BEST undertaking, or improving the condition of the railway," Mhaske said.

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Updated Date: Sep 29, 2017 17:51:13 IST