The stampede at Elphinstone Road railway station in Mumbai killed at least 27 people and injured over 30. However, this would have not been the case had officials paid heed to the repeated complaints of commuters and the media that have been doing the rounds for at least 20 years. Anyone who has used that footbridge will tell you this was an accident waiting to happen, like leaving a burning flame near a petrol station. The only thing they did change at the station was its name. It was officially renamed Prabhadevi a few months ago.
Ironically hours after the incident, this reporter along with another colleague went to investigate the situation, and we were yelled at by a commuter for slowing him down as he was about to catch a train.
The spirit of Mumbai never dies and it unfortunately has become a cliche to justify official apathy and an albatross around the neck of Mumbaikars.
Ever since Lower Parel and Elphinstone Road replaced Nariman Point and Churchgate as the business hubs of Mumbai, the city saw a large influx of its working population moving here. From a mill area, Central Mumbai became a commercial hub, with offices, malls and hotels rapidly sprawling.
However, even as the area developed, the stations remained the same. Dadar, Mumbai Centra, Bandra, Andheri and Borivali, which are important stations on the Western Line got the necessary makeovers and a budget was even sanctioned to inaugurate a new station between Goregaon and Jogeshwari (Ram Mandir Road), but Lower Parel and Elphinstone Road (and Curey Road and Parel on the Central Line that witness the same crowds) were left alone.
One of the biggest problems that these stations have faced is the hawker issues. A 2010 blog by veteran railway journalist and historian Rajendra Aklekar. In the blog, he describes how he had alerted the railway police of the hawker menace, but nothing was rectified. In another blog, which was a follow up of the first one, Aklekar describes how he was later threatened by these hawkers.
In 2016, Arvind Sawant, a Shiv Sena MP wrote a series of letters to the Ministry of Railways requesting sanctions to rectify the stations. He even received a letter from then railway minister Suresh Prabhu.
This was a portion of Prabhu’s reply, “It has been one of the toughest years for the Indian Railways because of the adverse effects of the global slowdown. Even in these challenging times, the following railway works in your constituency is under our positive consideration: The construction of a 12 metre wide foot over bridge (FOB) connecting Western Railway and Central Railway at Elphinstone Road, after extension of platform 1 and 2 towards the north side by 10 metres.”
This letter was written in 2016. It’s almost October 2017 and nothing has been done as yet. During this same period, nearly 3,800 people have died on local trains. And Mumbaikars will complain, but will continue living their lives as if nothing happened.