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Indifference, callousness and lack of accountability caused the Elphinstone station disaster

Given the country’s population, overcrowding on public transport and at public spots cannot be wished away. Pilgrim centres, train and bus stations, even public hospitals and government offices, are all in danger of being swamped. What we need are better infrastructure and more imaginative and effective crowd-control measures

editorials Updated: Sep 29, 2017 22:54 IST
Hindustan Times
Elphinstone,Mumbai stampede,Elphinstone Road station
Mumbai: Passengers caught in a stampede at Elphinstone railway station's foot over bridge in Mumbai on Friday. (PTI)

It was a tragedy waiting to happen. On Friday, 22 people lost their lives in a stampede on the stairs leading out of Elphinstone Road station in the heart of Mumbai. Regular commuters will tell you that the foot overbridges at the over-crowded stations on Mumbai’s suburban train network, the city’s lifeline that handles 75 lakh commuters every day, are virtual death-traps and that it’s providence that they stay safe at all. The dangers at this particular railway station have been repeatedly highlighted but to little effect. The railway authorities have done little to build more infrastructure to handle the increasing footfalls. They increase the number of trains so that more people can travel. But they don’t provide more space for the exploding numbers to move into and out of the stations. The result: choked exit points, especially during peak traffic hours.

Across Mumbai, it’s the same story. The bursting-at-the-seams railway network is beginning to break down under the load of ever-increasing numbers. Remember the deluge of August 29 that brought the trains, and the city, to a standstill? So what are the railway authorities doing about it? On Friday, they first denied there were any casualties. Not surprising as they live in denial. A responsible administration would have acted years ago. Funds are not the problem. Indifference, callousness and lack of accountability are. So many people have lost their lives, but no one will pay. Some low-ranking official may be suspended, but the top echelons of the Railways will be insulated from any fallout. This must change.

As must the approach to safety in public spaces across India. Given the country’s population, overcrowding on public transport and at public spots cannot be wished away. Pilgrim centres, train and bus stations, even public hospitals and government offices, are all in danger of being swamped. What we need are better infrastructure and more imaginative and effective crowd-control measures. And better civic sense. Friday’s stampede was set off by rumours that an overbridge had collapsed. Such things are to be expected and should be factored in while developing a crowd-control protocol. But all this can only come about if the authorities show respect for human life and dignity; only if they accept that citizens have a right to expect that they do not have to put life and limb at risk every time they venture out into public spaces. In this day and age, it is nothing short of criminal that so many lives have been lost because of systemic failure in the country’s biggest city. Someone must pay and it can’t be the citizen every time.

First Published: Sep 29, 2017 17:21 IST