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Mumbai stampede: Tragedy is fallout of misplaced priorities

There could be a case for planning for the future, but what about the need to improve and upgrade basic infrastructure at railway stations? Shouldn’t that be a priority?

mumbai Updated: Sep 30, 2017 00:37 IST
The Mumbai fire brigade at Elphinstone Road in Mumbai on Friday.
The Mumbai fire brigade at Elphinstone Road in Mumbai on Friday.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)

It is a sad irony. The stampede took place at Elphinstone Road station on the day railway minister Piyush Goyal was to visit Mumbai and get a first-hand experience of the struggle millions of daily commuters face as they commute between work place and home in overcrowded trains. In fact, the railway officials were also considering an event to rename Elphinstone Road station during Goyal’s visit to Mumbai on Friday, but it was somehow put on hold.

For the past few years, commuters’ associations and activists have been raising the issue of overcrowded foot overbridges and narrow staircases at Parel and Elphinstone Road stations and warning the authorities that there could be a stampede-like situation here. The Hindustan Times published several reports on the subject. A plan for makeover of the two stations on two different suburban lines (central and western) joined by a narrow foot overbridge was prepared a few years ago. However, typically it was not given priority. On the other hand, a political demand to rename Elphinstone Road station as Prabhadevi was taken up on urgent basis and a notification was issued by the railway ministry in no time.

Anybody who takes a glance at the two stations during morning and evening peak hours can tell there is an urgent need to rebuild their basic infrastructure. In fact, not just Parel and Elphinstone Road, but some other stations in central Mumbai have been witnessing similar problems. Following the redevelopment of mill land, in which defunct textile mills gave way to skyscrapers housing commercial offices, central Mumbai’s Parel-Worli belt became a commercial hub. Footfall at these stations saw a massive increase. The railway officials, however, are slow to react to the development and the outcome is there to see.

Even the Maharashtra government and Mumbai civic body who gave permission for vertical development of central Mumbai should share the blame for the incident. Both the state and city governments were well aware of the development in the area, but did little to upgrade the infrastructure there.

The incident also raises questions over the way the suburban railway network is governed by the railway ministry.

The railway ministry is taking up projects such as air-conditioned trains, elevated railway corridors and above all, the Rs1,00,000-crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train. There could be a case for planning for the future, but what about the need to improve and upgrade basic infrastructure at railway stations? Shouldn’t that be a priority?

Experts and commuters’ associations have been demanding there should be a separate cadre to handle the suburban train networks at mega cities like Mumbai, as the top railway officers often fail to understand how the Mumbai suburban section, which is used daily by over 7 million commuters, needs to be run. Maybe, it’s time to consider this demand as well.

2017