Elphinstone Tragedy: An Infrastructure Red Alert

 

Our metros are bubbling with advancements and news of flagship projects making the headlines every day. If on one hand there is the news of bullet trains trying to take us to newer heights, on the other hand, there is also news of untoward rail derailments making us lose control and blame the administration for its lackadaisical approach towards the safety of the citizens who blindly rely on our transport services.

The Elphinstone tragedy in Mumbai city which killed 22 persons and injured 35 raises yet another alarm for our railway and city officials to take note of the fact that even a simple mode of passage like the Foot Over Bridge is unsafe for commuters.

Although on an average 10 people die in a road accident every day in Mumbai, what culminated in the accident on the 29th of September was the sudden downpour that resulted in the overcrowded footbridge eventually leading to the stampede. It’s scary how a simple footbridge can push people at the helm of death.

The commuters who gathered at the Elphinstone-Parel footbridge unaware of the reason which caused this disaster. Reports even claim a suspected short-circuit to be the cause behind the tragic scenario, while some even panicked at the probability of the bridge on the verge of a collapse.

Elphinstone and Parel are two main train stations which transport lakhs of office goers from various corners of Mumbai to the commercial hub of Lower Parel, located in the suburbs of Mumbai. The stations are almost six decades old and have not been revamped since the crowd started burgeoning during the commercial explosion of the 90s.

A CAG report filed earlier proves that the railways were reminded before of this impending disaster and even the Shiv Sena had written to the government asking to replace the 5 meters wide footbridge.

It’s believed that in 2016 the former Railway Minister Mr. Suresh Prabhu sanctioned the construction of a 12-meter footbridge from Elphinstone road to Parel.

Two-Shiv Sena members of the parliament in separate letters mentioned their words of caution to the Railway Ministry stating that the Parel-Elphinstone footbridge was incapable of managing passenger load. Responding to one of the letters Railway minister Suresh Prabhu moved a proposal for the construction of a new foot over bridge 12 meters wide.

Unfortunately, the proposal got stuck in the tedious tender process and didn’t find its way through. In his response to Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant Railway Minister, Suresh Prabhu expressed the unbearable financial crunch that the department of Railways is facing.

He wrote, “Most of the requests which are received reflect the genuine needs and demands of the people and it is always our endeavor to agree too many requests as possible. However, sometimes due to the paucity of finances, operational constraints or other compelling circumstances agreeing to the request may not be possible,” Prabhu wrote.

While the then Railways Minister did not explicitly say so, it was clear that he said that Sawant’s request that a new foot-over-bridge be built at Elphinstone Road station could not be fulfilled due to lack of funds.”

The recently appointed Railway Minister Piyush GOyal ordered a probe into the FOB stampede issue and also assured that the widening of the foot overbridge will be done on high priority, leaving no stones unturned.

He even visited the KEM hospital where the injured were admitted and expressed his condolences on the mishap.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a compensation of 5 lakhs for the families of the deceased and assured that all the expenses of the victims will be borne by the Maharashtra government.

 

While Mumbai still reels out of this massive infrastructure disaster it’s high time that other metros too wake up to such catastrophe which disrupts our ladder of growth in such commercial establishments.

 

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