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Inaction stations

mumbai Updated: Apr 19, 2010 01:03 IST

If walking on railway platforms is difficult, entering or exiting Mumbai’s stations is a Herculean task.

It’s not just the paucity of services, the poor condition of the trains or the crowds inside them that commuters are concerned about. The crush once you get off the train is as bad. Narrow, crowded platforms and a poor dispersal system outside stations are leading to traffic chaos and commuter delays.
The road (top) outside Dadar station is overrun by flower sellers and hawkers, making it difficult for commuters to enter and exit the station. The platforms are almost as crowded as the trains themselves. HT file photos

In a survey last month by Hindustan Times and Ipsos Indica research, 46 per cent said the crowds in local trains haven’t reduced despite the new-age trains or increase in frequency; 46 per cent rated the platforms as good, while 34 per cent said they were only average.

Till a couple of years ago, the solution seemed to lie in a project christened the Station Area Traffic Improvement System (SATIS), a plan to effectively disperse the commuter load from stations and provide quick, efficient transport to their workplaces.

But, each state agency involved is passing responsibility for it to the other.

Mumbai has 104 stations, each of which is used on average by one lakh commuters every day. After SATIS was conceived in 2004 and was in the midst of being implemented in 2008, the World Bank, which was funding the project, asked the government to scrap it as it was not going as planned.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) then transferred the project to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

“SATIS is being handled by the BMC after the World Bank dropped it,” said MMRDA spokesperson Dilip Kawatkhar. The BMC, on the other hand, said it was MMRDA’s problem. “SATIS is with MMRDA,” said R.A. Rajeev, additional municipal commissioner.

The Rs 103-crore scheme was supposed to clear the roads around four major stations — Dadar, Borivli, Chembur and Ghatkopar — and make access easy for commuters. The plan provided for parking lots for rickshaws, taxis and swank ticket counters. A provision was even made to extend Chembur station. But there is little to show on the ground.

“The number of passengers on both Central and Western Railways has touched 70 lakh. Yet, they are treated like cattle. Every day, there is a stampede-like situation on the foot-over bridges. If the government had implemented SATIS, ignoring the opposition, the passengers would have been better off by now,” said Madhu Kotian, secretary, Railway Passenger Association.

Outside stations, it’s utter chaos — rickshaws and taxis are parked haphazardly or lined up in disorganised queues. Snarls are common and cars and buses take several minutes to cover a few metres.

MMRDA officials said SATIS is being carried out, though not in an integrated manner. “We are handling components, such as skywalks and subways. The plan for separate parking lots and roads for rickshaws and taxis has been dropped,” said MMRDA Additional Metropolitan Commissioner S.V.R. Srinivas. Fifty-four such skywalks have been planned across Mumbai.

MMRDA officials blame the change in currency prices in the last two years, which makes foreign funding costly. “There is also the lack of space outside stations like Dadar, which leaves no room for station extensions,” said P.C. Sehgal, managing director, Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation, which is handling the railway upgrade.

The BMC is also being blamed for failing to clear areas outside stations. “The high court had specified that there shouldn’t be any hawkers in a 150-metre radius of the station,” said Kotian. An MMRDA official said on condition of anonymity: “Hawkers outside stations refuse to budge. They are backed by politicians and it’s difficult to take firm action against them.”