The stampede on the foot-over-bridge (FoB) between Elphinstone and Parel Railway Stations in Mumbai has claimed 22 lives and has left as many as 30 others injured. The number of casualties are expected to go up as rescue work goes on in the crowded area.
Heavy rainfall in the morning had left hundreds of commuters stranded at Elphinstone and at Parel stations and many had taken shelter on the FoB connecting the two. When four local trains arrived at both the stations, the people on the bridge started to move towards the two platforms.
According to railway officials, the stampede was triggered around 10:30AM when a person climbing down the stairs lost balance. The people around him tried to help and in the process, four others lost their balance and fell. This lead to a cascading effect leading to many others falling. The FoB was packed with people and even before things could be salvaged, hundreds came sliding down.
“Many were waiting in the rain. There were too many people in a cramped space. When people were trying to rush to their trains, the stampede happened,” railway spokesperson Anil Saxena said.
At last count, 22 people were killed in the rush, including four women, and 30 others have been injured. Those injured have been rushed to KEM Hospital for treatment.
Praveen Bangar, a senior medical officer at the KEM hospital near the accident site, informed that 20 people were brought in dead.
The Union Railway Minister Piyush Goel has ordered a high-level inquiry into the matter and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has announced an exgratia of Rs 5 lakh to the families of those killed in the mishap.
A disaster waiting to happen?
The two stations are used by a majority of Mumbai’s local train commuters as there are a large number of offices in the area.
Reports suggest there had been requests to repair the bridge, which is too old, too narrow and not strong enough to handle the rush the busy sector gets every day.
“It was a disaster waiting to happen. Getting down at these stations and coming out is no less than a nightmare,” said Renuka Patil, who commutes to Lower Parel from Thane every day. She added that the station has been overcrowded and decrepit for years.
Police suspect a short-circuit with a loud sound near the FoB led to panic and people started running, resulting in the stampede. According to police, the stampede might have also been triggered by a rumour that a pedestrian overpass collapsed after concrete chunks fell.
The blame game
The political blame game began within an hour of the tragedy. The Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena have come down heavily on the state as well as central government for the lapses which resulted in the tragedy.
Congress MP and state unit president Ashok Chavhan visited KEM Hospital to meet the people injured in the mishap. “The incident is highly unfortunate. The railway administration is solely responsible for it. Government should institute judicial inquiry into the matter and punish the guilty,” Chavhan said.
He said that central government was more concerned about bullet trains which would carry only 750 passengers and that 70 lakh people who commute by local trains every day are left to the mercy of God. “Mumbai needs safety on suburban train and not the swanky Bullet Train,” he said.
NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad said, “The government is highly insensitive towards the safety issues faced by commuters in Mumbai,” he said. Awhad alleged that the ruling party MPs have never raised the issue of safety on suburban train in Lok Sabha. “It was yesterday that four commuters fell off a running local train near Diva and one of them died. Who is responsible for the death?” Awhad asked.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said, “It is a serious issue. The government is not at all concerned about safety of Mumbaikars. We demand an offence of culpable homicide be registered against the government.”