Elphinstone Road stampede: a terrible ‘man-made’ disaster

The Elphinstone Road railway station stampede in Mumbai which killed at least 22 was inevitable. Top officials remained lackadaisical not only before the accident but also after it

Photo by Satyabrata Tripathy/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Satyabrata Tripathy/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Vikrant Jha

“Why do we need terrorists when our Railway is enough to kill people,” said a livid Raj Thackeray while talking about the Elphinstone Road stampede. If we look at the figures, since August 19 when Kalinga-Utkal express had derailed, more than at least 50 people have died in railway related accidents. Most of them, however, could have been averted had the government been more receptive and less careless.

If we go by the various reports which have emerged after the deadly stampede at the Elphinstone road railway station on Saturday, it is all but obvious that the incident that killed at least 22 people and injured more than 37 was, in fact, not an ‘accident’.

Times of India, in a report, revealed how twitter users had warned the government of an expected accident due to the frightful condition of the bridge. In fact, twitter’s advantage of connecting to the ministers was best used as the twitter handles of railway minister Suresh Prabhu and Ministry of Railways were tagged by the users to alert the government. PM Narendra Modi too had been made aware of the damaging infrastructure but, sadly, the tweets attracted no official attention until the inevitable accident finally happened.

These are a few tweets which were posted earlier for the government(s) to notice:

Notably, just a couple of days before the tragic incident happened, Ministry of Railways and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal were warned by a twitter user about the condition of the nearly 40-year-old overpass, which connects Elphinstone Road and Parel (central) stations bridge. Ministry of Railways’ twitter handle, in fact, had replied to the tweet saying, “matter forwarded to Central Railway”. Replying to a similar tweet in February this year, Ministry of Railways had replied, “your suggestion is being forwarded to concerned official.” The tweets, however, went unnoticed by the “concerned official” and the man-made tragedy finally happened.

It is not only that the concerned officials were sleeping all this while and suddenly woke up as the accident happened. In fact, they took their own sweet time to wake up on the day of the accident as well. As per a Mumbai Mirror report, “residents of Railway Colony, next to the station, had made several calls to authorities starting at 10:25 am, but help arrived only after 11 am.” The report claims that the officials including the police, railway officials, GRP, RPF were not even aware of the horrible accident at least for half an hour after it happened.

Ramesh Dalvi, who lives in the Railway Colony next to the station, told Mumbai Mirror, “(we) made several calls to different authorities, including stationmaster Anil Gupta, who had no idea what had happened.” For at least next half an hour,the local residents claimed, no help arrived.

However, once the accident finally happened, many of the ministers, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were fast as bullet trains to, finally, take notice and even tweeted condolence messages promptly and, as expected, “a high-level enquiry” was announced as well within a span of a few hours.

Had the government been as quick in acknowledging the warnings as they were while posting condolence messages, at least 22 lives would have been saved.

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Published: 30 Sep 2017, 5:10 PM