On the morning of September 29, 2017, Mumbai fell victim to yet another infrastructural tragedy. At around 10:30 am, a stampede broke out on the foot-over bridge connecting the Elphinstone Road and Parel railway stations resulting in the death of 22 persons and leaving over 35 others injured.
With the rains having ceased during the past week, most of the commuters were caught unaware, without umbrellas, by the sudden downpour and sought shelter from the same on the foot-over bridge. Witnesses say that four trains rolled in at the same time leading to severe commotion and tussles between those seeking refuge and those wanting to climb up the bridge, with several persons precariously poised on the frail railings. A few slipped in the process and soon, people were falling all over each other.
Elphinstone Road and Parel are some of Mumbai’s busiest stations, especially during the office hours, due to the large population of office buildings in the surrounding areas. The foot-over bridge is the primary path to enter and exit the station and witnesses heavy commuter traffic on a daily basis. On several occasions, the narrow width of the bridge has been pointed out as inadequate and a disaster waiting to strike, with several requests to widen it having been made, in vain. The construction of a new bridge was sanctioned but the project never took off.
Mumbai is not an isolated incident. The condition of public transport in the country is deplorable. On August 19, 2017, the derailment of the Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express resulted in the death of over 20. Ill-maintained railway tracks have caused the deaths due to derailment in the year 2016-17, a figure that is said be the highest in the decade. Between 2009-10 and 2014-15, of the total 803 railway accidents, 47% were caused due to derailments.
The roads aren’t doing too much better either. In the August of 2016, a British-era bridge on the Mumbai-Goa expressway collapsed, leading to the death of two people and over 20 missing. In May of the same year, a northern Himalayan road caved in leading to an over-packed bus falling into a gorge, resulting in the death of 14. A recent report by the Union Road Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkari, highlights that over 100 bridges in the country require urgent attention for they are on the verge of a collapse. A report by the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation provides that only 60% of the total Indian roads are surfaced.
In the light of the current public transport infrastructure, that is in urgent need for an overhaul, the construction of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train line is questionable. The total project cost is pegged at ₹88,000 crores, with about 80% of the amount being financed by a loan from Japan. The project will also require large subsidies in order to continue operations that will result in a loss of about ₹700 crores a year for the railways.
While the plan to change the way Indians travel is in good spirit, the need of the hour is not being met. The Mumbai Metro, a similar ₹80,000 crore project, will certainly help the cause. In the meantime, however, the local trains continue to form the arterial network of Mumbai. It is in urgent need of restoration work in order to bring ease to the commute of the nearly 80 lakh Mumbaikars who use the network every day. The strengthening of this essential infrastructure would bring a huge sigh of relief to all those who gamble with their lives as they head out into the city every day.