September 29, 2017 12:16 PM

Mumbai (Face2News)

Twenty-two commuters were killed here on Friday when a horrific stampede broke out on a narrow railway foot overbridge linking Elphinstone Road and Parel stations when hundreds took shelter there to escape pounding rains, officials said.

At least 39 others were injured, some critically, the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Disaster Control said after the morning peak hour tragedy struck on the suburban network – the veritable lifeline of the country’s commercial capital. Meanwhile Railway Minister ordered enquiry and announced ex-gratia grants of Rs. 5 lacs to next of kin of deceased.

When Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Maharashtra Education Minister Vinod Tawde reached the hospital to meet the injured, they faced demonstrations and sloganeering by thousands of angry commuters and Shiv Sainiks demanding accountability for the deaths.

Many among the eight million plus daily railway commuters, numbed by the unprecedented tragedy, besides politicians, slammed the proposed Bullet Train and demanded that funds meant for it should be diverted to improve commuter safety on the existing network.

Just what caused the stampede was not clear but in no time people desperately trying to get out of the British-era bridge collapsed over one another, many instantly crushed to death. The dead included 14 men and eight women.

The site resembled a war zone with hundreds of wailing commuters, many of them trapped between the footsteps on the stairs and on the gaps in the handle bars and railings. Some even dangled precariously from the bridge while local trains zoomed below.

By the time it was all over, there was a large scattered heap of bloodstained slippers and shoes, handbags or briefcases, tiffin boxes and water bottles, spectacles, crushed mobiles and broken jewellery, pieces of torn clothes and other belongings of the commuters.

Dazed survivors claimed the panic run followed rumours of a short-circuit — later found to be untrue. Railway officials blamed overcrowding on the bridge due to the downpour as hundreds gathered to take shelter and more kept pouring in.

The first to respond to the disaster were taxi drivers and motorists who rushed the injured and the barely living to the KEM Hospital in Parel in cabs and even two-wheelers. 

When Goyal and Maharashtra Education Minister Vinod Tawde reached the hospital to meet the injured, they faced demonstrations and sloganeering by thousands of angry commuters and Shiv Sainiks demanding accountability for the deaths.

The Elphinstone Road station is part of Western Railway and the Parel station belongs to Central Railway. The overbridge linked the two networks.President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief.

“My deepest condolences to all those who have lost their lives due to the stampede in Mumbai. Prayers with those who are injured,” Modi tweeted.

The incident provided fuel to BJP ally Shiv Sena and the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party to attack the proposed Rs 1.08 lakh crore Bullet Train project.Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut termed the deaths “a public massacre” and demanded criminal proceedings against the Railway Minister and top railway officials on charges of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder”.Another Sena MP, Rahul Shewale, said he wrote to then Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu in April 2015 demanding that the foot overbridge – the scene of the stampede – should be widened but it was rejected on grounds of paucity of funds and operational constraints.

The central and Maharashtra governments announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to families of the dead besides compensation and free medical treatment to the injured.Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was abroad, rushed to back and announced a separate probe into the incident and compensation for the victims, most of who were identified by late evening.Congress leader Ashok Chavan demanded a judicial probe and stringent action against the guilty.NCP senior leader Jitendra Awhad said the government had promised to fund a Rs 46,000 crore project to overhaul Mumbai’s suburban railway network. It was mum on the long-pending suburban elevated rail corridor and instead was focussing on an expensive Bullet Train.Congress and NCP leaders also demanded the resignation of Railway Minister Goyal, who took charge this month.

The festival-eve calamity sparked off angry reactions on social media, with many questioning lapses vis-a-vis safety and security of commuters even as mega-projects like Bullet Trains are announced.Many Mumbaikars said they had abandoned plans to go on weekend outings or shopping for Dussehra on Saturday.

Appeals came up on the social media to cancel or curtail Friday night’s final Navratri celebrations as a mark of respect to the stampede victims.In the meantime  Criticising the railways for “criminal negligence” resulting in the death of at least 22 persons in a foot overbridge stampede in Mumbai, the Congress on Friday advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “change the raliways face and not ministers”. 

“We would like to tell the Prime Minister that you can’t placate the public by just changing railway ministers. If you have to change anything, change the railways’ face,” Congress Spokesperson and Lok Sabha MP Sushmita Dev said here.“This is a huge dereliction of duty by the Prime Minister,” she added. After a series of rail accidents, Modi shifted Suresh Prabhu out of the Railway Ministry in a Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month and elevated Piyush Goyal as the new Railway Minister.

Dev said while the railways had hiked the cost of platform ticket from Rs 10 to Rs 20 in view of festival rush, it had not cared to take measures to increase passenger safety. At least 22 commuters were killed and many more injured in a stampede on a narrow railway foot overbridge connecting the Parel-Elphinstone Road stations of Western Railway in Mumbai on Friday morning. The death count is feared to go up. “Time and again, the commuters have complained about the safety of this foot overbridge. Even the Central Railway in 2015 had accepted that this heritage bridge linking Parel and Elphinstone Road stations was ‘structurally weak’ and had decided to direct the footfall to the other bridge that connects Dadar to Parel by extending it to the eastern end of Parel as a temporary measure,” Dev said.

“But due to slow progress of work and criminal negligence of the railway authorities, no concrete action was taken,” she added. The Congress demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident and asked the government to raise the compensation amount to “at least Rs 50 lakh” from Rs 5 lakh announced by the government. “There are 1.42 lakh vacant posts in the railway safety department. The next of kin of railway accident victims should be given those jobs, so that their kitchens keep running,” Dev said. (Input agencies/tvreports)

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