In a tragic incident in Elphinstone Road Suburban Railway Station, Mumbai on 29th September2017, at least 23 people were killed and many more severely injured, in a stampede on a railway bridge connecting Central and Western railway suburban stations. After facing flak from all corners and after seeing the wide spread anger of people reported, the Maharashtra government and Railway administration were forced to show that they are doing something. The Maharashtra government hurriedly constituted a committee which would supposedly review the safety aspects of suburban railways regularly. The Railway Minister hurriedly instructed railway officials to conduct safety audits of all the suburban stations.He has also declared that safety related actions should be executed on top priority by the railway authorities and has promised that widening of existing foot over bridges and constructing additional foot over bridges will be completed on priority in 15 months. However, it is reported that within 2 days after the announcement of these actions he has blamed inefficient and corrupt railway officials for this accident.
What is the motive behind declaration of these urgent actions followed by the blaming of officials? One purpose is of course to quell the anger of the people. However the real purpose is to avoid any debate on the terrible state of affairs vis-à-vis rail safety and to hide the real reason due to which the safety of railway passengers is getting endangered more and more.
One look at the Mumbai suburban railway situation is sufficient to understand the terrible state of affairs. In 1952, Mumbai’s suburban rail system was carrying 292 million passengers; by 2016 that number was up to 2.7 billion, a nine time increase. Over the same period, the number of trains grew less than four times–from 741 to 2,800. No wonder the city’s suburban rail infrastructure has failed its commuters. Mumbai’s local trains carry about 75 lakh passengers every day, packed, on average, to 2.6 times the capacity! As a consequence, commuters in Mumbai routinely fall out of trains or die crossing the tracks. Every day on an average, 9 – 10 people die in this manner. In the ten years up to 2015, 6,989 died after falling from trains and 22,289 died crossing the tracks. No attention has been paid to overcrowding of trains and improvement of the infrastructure to cater to the safety of increasing number of passengers. The situation is extremely dangerous and people fear that many more such incidents are bound to take place. There is outrage that safety is being neglected on the plea that enough funds are not available, while there is no dearth of money to finance bullet trains. There is anger that the government is more interested in renaming stations in order to arouse communal hysteria rather than making travel safe for all communities.
So far the Indian Railways did not treat foot over bridges as a necessity, but an “amenity”! Though over the years several concerned people had brought the extremely dangerous state of affairs at Elphinstone Road and other suburban stations repeatedly to the attention of the authorities, nothing had been done. This is because for the various governments that have come to power, safety of passengers counts for nothing. So what happened on that day at Elphinstone Road cannot be called an accident.
MazdoorEkta Lahar condemns the government and the authorities of Indian Railways for this murder of people in the Elphinstone Road tragedy! It demands that the concerned people including ministers be held accountable for this tragic massacre.