Could the horrific tragedy at Mumbai’s Elphinstone Road station on Friday have been averted? Hours after at least 22 people died and 35 were injured in a stampede on the foot overbridge connecting Elphinstone Road and Parel stations in Central Mumbai, several citizens took to Twitter to pull out old tweets in which they had warned the Indian Railways about a possible stampede on that very stretch. Several of them were journalists working in the Elphinstone-Lower Parel area, who had also tagged former Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu in their tweets, reminding him of the need to widen the foot overbridge connecting the two stations.
Cartoonist Manjul had warned of a tragedy in the stations through multiple tweets in February. He received standard replies from the Indian Railways Twitter handle.
We scanned all the tweets posted on the issue by Mumbaikars. At last count, we found nearly 100 tweets that went back to 2013. One keyword that stood out in all of them was the word “stampede”. Most tweets warned that a disaster was waiting to happen.
The Indian Railways replied to some of the tweets but in a templated response, which promised action.
The frantic warnings were not just limited to Twitter. In August 2014, the MP from Mumbai South constituency, Arvind Sawant, wrote to Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda seeking foot overbridges on the Parel, Curry Road, Chinchpokli stations.
Suresh Prabhu, who took over as Railways Minister from Sadananda Gowda, replied to Sawant on February 20, 2016, where he acknowledged the demands made by the MP. He said that despite the “adverse effects of the global slowdown”, a new 12-metre wide foot overbridge connecting the Western Railway and Central Railway was under “our positive consideration”.
After the stampede, the Ministry of Railways tweeted that the proposal for the new bridge was approved in 2016-’17 and the tenders would be opened on November 9.
While Mumbai’s commuters have been travelling like cattle for several decades in the suburban railways that service the financial capital and its satellite townships, an unexpected spell of rain that caused people to converge on the bridge for shelter led to the tragedy.
It was a reminder of the dangers Mumbai commuters face every day as they travel to and from work.
According to data journalism website IndiaSpend, more than 2.2 million commuters travel in peak hours on Mumbai locals – between 7 am and 11.30 am and between 4 pm and 8.30 pm. Also, eight million passengers – more than the population of Hyderabad – travel on the Mumbai rail network every weekday, using its 2,800 services.
In the past two decades, Mumbai’s central areas such as Lower Parel and Elphinstone have transformed from hubs of textile mills to vast glass and steel multi-storey office complexes.
However, the road and rail infrastructure has been unable to cope with this transformation, leading to pockets of haphazard development.
Elphinstone Road station was named after Lord Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay from 1853 to 1860. Friday’s stampede occurred on a day the station was to be formally renamed Prabhadevi after the Hindu goddess Prabhavati Devi, whose idol dating back to the 12th century is installed in a temple a few kilometres away.
The tragedy occurred exactly a month after the city came to a standstill after a deluge on August 29, exposing once again that the city’s creaky and outdated infrastructure can no longer cope with its explosive growth in population.
This article first appeared on Boomlive.