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A year of Elphinstone Road stampede: Promises made yet to be delivered

Has the ground reality changed in one year? Not much, say experts.

mumbai Updated: Sep 29, 2018 00:58 IST
Elphinstone Road,Mumbai locals,Mumbai station
The Elphinstone Road stampede claimed 23 lives last year.(HT File)

This day last year, Mumbai’s lifeline came to a jolt – the seemingly innocuous routine of crossing the Elphinstone Road bridge led to a stampede, killing 23 people and injuring 39. After the initial shock and trauma, came the multiple announcements and promises to make the travel of 75 lakh daily suburban commuters safe.

Has the ground reality changed in one year? Not much, say experts.

In the aftermath of the incident, railway minister Piyush Goyal held a 13-hour marathon meeting with officials and other state agencies at the western railway headquarters in Churchgate. Goyal announced a number of steps. From construction of 30 foot overbridges (FOB) on central and western railway within a year, installation of CCTVs in all coaches, eviction of hawkers, remodelling of eight railway yards in Mumbai to segregate suburban and long-distance trains, to shifting of 200 railway board and headquarter officers to inspect the progress, and extra powers to railway general manager for safety works – they promised it all.

Goyal also set up a three-member panel, headed by former vigilance commissioner Pratyanshu Sinha, to look into the 18-month delay in issuing a tender for a new 12-meter-wide foot-overbridge (FOB) at Elphinstone Road, which activists claimed would have prevented the tragedy. Ironically, the committee, formed to study the procedural delay and suggest ways to speed up the processes is caught in red-tapism, and is yet to submit its report.

WR spokesperson confirmed they are yet to get the report, adding they are unaware if it has been sent to the railway board. The spokesperson of the railway board could not be reached for a comment.

The promise of monthly review of FOB construction and installation of escalators and lifts, too, hasn’t been fulfilled. Goyal had asked Maharashtra’s education minister Vinod Tawde, who is also the guardian minister of Mumbai, to monitor the progress of new FOBs, skywalk and other infrastructure works at suburban stations and submit the report to him. According to railway officers, Tawde has only chaired a couple of meetings on the issue. Tawade did not respond to HT’s calls or messages.

The minister had also directed railway, police and civic authorities to decongest station entry and exit points by evicting the hawkers. Taking serious note of it, railway and civic authorities declared the 150-m area leading to all stations hawker-free, only to see their return at Dadar, Kurla, Byculla and several other stations.

“After the incident, the authorities had cracked down on the hawkers outside Dadar railway station, but they are back now,” said Uday Parab, a Parel resident.

Moreover, only a few trains came with closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras inside trains, while the system was installed only in a few old trains on a trial basis. Railway officials said they have prepared the proposals for CCTV system inside locals, but the work is expected to start in the next few months.

Both CR and WR claimed they have constructed all 30 FOBs – 20 on CR and 10 on WR – and works of several other FOBs are in progress and are expected to be completed in 2019.

“We have completed nearly 20 FOBs in less than a year, apart from dozens of escalators and lifts. More 44 FOBs are in the pipeline, and are in various stages of sanction and construction,” said Sunil Udasi, chief public relations officer of CR.

Apart from this, the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation (MRVC) is constructing 28 FOBs at a cost of ₹200 crore. Commuter activists claim some of the FOBs built by railways and MRVC are unnecessary.

“In a way, it is a waste of public money if the FOBs are not convenient or useful,” said Subhash Gupta, a passenger activist, pointing at Army bridge at Parel.

Railway officials said the railways has included FOBs, escalators, and lifts on the list of mandatory passenger amenities. It is now grading stations on the basis of passenger footfall to provide the amenities.

First Published: Sep 29, 2018 00:58 IST