An inquiry report on the September 29 Elphinstone bridge stampede in Mumbai that killed 23 people has blamed heavy rain for the tragedy, officials said today. The panel, headed by the Western Railway chief security officer, submitted its report to WR General Manager Anil Kumar today after recording statements of 30 commuters who were injured. It has also examined video footage of the incident, officials said.
According to the report, the stampede was caused by heavy rains which forced people outside at the ticket counters to rush to the already jammed staircase for cover. It said the constant flow of passengers arriving at the station compounded the problem.
The report said people with heavy luggage lost their balance because of which the stampede may have occurred. The probe also said none of the witnesses supported the claim of a short circuit on the bridge leading to the chaos. The probe panel has recommended that passengers be prevented from carrying heavy luggage during peak hours.
The movement of commuters, mainly vendors, carrying baskets stuffed with goods during peak hours should also be restricted. Other recommendations by the panel include relocating the elevated booking office to widen the staircase (the elevated booking office is adjacent to the staircase where the stampede occurred). An additional staircase can also be provided, the panel has said.
It has suggested that officials use a quick mode of communication apart from mobile phones to ensure timely reaction. Wireless handsets can be provided to station and security staff, the report said. On September 29, 23 people were killed in the rush hour stampede on a narrow overbridge linking Elphinstone Road and Parel suburban stations during heavy rain.
However, the report gives rise to one question as to why didn't the officials see this coming, especially when the intensity of Mumbai rains is not unknown and so is the age of the foot overbridge and the infrastructure at the station.
While Railway Minister Piyush Goyal assures that a new foot overbridge will be ready within a year, our question is what about the other stations in Mumbai that have similar, stunted infrastructure. Not just this station, the safety measures in all the old railway stations in Mumbai, like Colaba, Bandra, Dadar, Lower Parel, Currey Road, Mahalakshmi, Mumbai Central need to be supervised. Incidentally, all of them are posh business hubs and lakhs of office goers use the local lines to commute to these areas. But, the FOB in these stations are as narrow as the Elphinstone station, even though they connect some of the major roads and other stations in the vicinity.
Where did the administration go wrong
Speaking to the New Indian Express, Mukul Jain, Divisional Railway Manager, said, "though the tender for the new foot overbridge had been finalised early this year, it would have taken another year for the bridge to be built. Even though the tender for the bridge had been finalised in March-April this year, it would not have been ready. Rains coupled with a singular movement of commuters on the bridge led to overcrowding on the staircase, which triggered the stampede. The exact reason will be deciphered only after the inquiry report is out".
Jain further said, "Had it not rained so much that day, the stampede wouldn't have occurred". However, online sources reported that the tender for the alternative bridge was actually uploaded online just hours after the stampede, negating all assumptions that the government was actually working on the safety of the platform.
Jain, however, has an answer to that too. Speaking to the New Indian Express, he said, "After the project was commissioned in 2016, both Central Railway and Western Railway had started work on it. It was a long drawn process and when two separate railway zones (Central and Western) work on one project, coordination takes longer than any other project of a standalone zone. The tender was coincidentally uploaded on the same day of the accident."
He also shows hopes that the new metro line scheduled for the station will also ease the crowd on the trains, thus reducing the pressure on the platforms too.
Here lies the second loophole. Had the railway station authorities shown some presence of mind, the should have stopped trains from coming to the station to avoid overcrowding. According to a report by The Hindu, the stampede began at 10:26 am, but for the next half an hour till 11 am, Western Railway local services kept running, which means at least 10 up and down trains stopped at the station, further putting pressure on the platform and thus the FOB.