Mumbai: Twenty-two people were killed in a stampede at Elphinstone Road railway station in Mumbai on Friday. Apparently caused by multiple factors including an extremely narrow and dilapidated staircase that thousands of commuters use to exit the station, the stampede left 36 people injured.
Railway minister Piyush Goyal and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered a probe into the incident.
Goyal, who was in the city when the stampede happened, told news agency ANI after a visit to KEM Hospital, where the injured were admitted, that an inquiry by the chief safety officer of the railways would be conducted to establish the reasons for the stampede and fix responsibility.
Goyal also ordered a safety and capacity audit of all foot overbridges at suburban stations across Mumbai, which routinely witness heavy commuter congestion.
The stampede took place around 10.30am on the staircase to the foot overbridge that connects Parel station on the central line of Mumbai’s suburban railway to Elphinstone Road station on the western line. Both stations witness extremely high levels of commuter traffic on week days as the Lower Parel and Elphinstone Road areas house a number of offices and small commercial establishments. Thousands of commuters use the foot overbridge every day and overcrowding is a routine affair during peak hours.
The bridge, built at least 15 years ago, is narrow, rickety, and has been in need of repair. “We have been making this demand to widen the foot overbridge and replace the old staircase for at least 15 years but to no avail. There is a plan for Parel terminus in the Mumbai Urban Transport Project phase two but that will take its own time. The railways should have at least widened the bridge and replaced the staircase. We warned the divisional railway manager about this foot overbridge and staircase barely 10 days back but nothing was done," said Subhash Gupta, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Railway Pravasi Parishad (All India Railway Commuters’ Council). Gupta held senior railway officials responsible for the tragedy.
According to commuters Mint spoke to after the stampede, the stampede was triggered by multiple factors. A heavy spell of rain that started around 9.30am had caused flooding just outside the Parel and Elphinstone Road stations.
“As it was raining and the area just outside the station was flooded, commuters waited on the staircase. But arrival of trains in both the stations brought new crowds of commuters who piled up on the bridge and staircase. A commuter probably fainted and people standing next to him sat down to help him. That is when panic started and people stumbled over each other as pressure from the crowd which had gathered on the bridge increased," said Ramesh Nikam, who had left the staircase minutes before and who walked back to help.
Some commuters, who were standing on the sides of the bridge, managed to jump off the staircase, while others got thrown off.
Anand Pandit, a commuter from Thane to Parel, got off the bridge minutes after the stampede. “This was a a tragedy waiting to happen. I have to take this foot overbridge every morning to exit Parel station and walk up to Indiabulls Financial Centre where my office is. It is hell taking this bridge in rush hour and similar stampedes could happen on the Parel end of the bridge if immediate steps are not taken," he said.
The Shiv Sena used the incident to taunt Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. Sena MP Arvind Sawant said the government should decide its priorities and invest in upgrading the existing railway infrastructure rather than focusing on the bullet train. He also demanded that railway officials be booked for culpable homicide.