Mumbai rail stampede

The Mumbai rail stampede was waiting to happen. Here’s how we can prevent a similar tragedy

We need to build a a city where people are encouraged to walk or take public transport, and not get killed for doing so.

Friday’s stampede at the Elphinstone Road railway station in Mumbai was a tragedy waiting to happen. I speak from my own horrifying experiences of being stuck in dense queues at Lower Parel and Currey Road stations in midtown Mumbai. Around 30,000-40,000 people alight at Elphinstone Road and Lower Parel during peak hours. The numbers are similar for Dadar, Parel and Currey Road. But the platforms and staircases at these stations, and the colonial-era steel bridges outside, are not designed to support such heavy footfall.

The Railways have done a decent job improving conditions on Mumbai’s local trains over the last decade, introducing 12-car trains, redesigned coaches and better ventilation. Now there is also talk of air conditioning the trains. However, upgrades to platforms and staircases have been limited, and restricted to a few stations such as Andheri, Dadar, Vile Parle. Even those are not up to the mark.

What happened on Elphinstone Road station’s staircases on Friday could easily happen on any of the approach roads to the stations listed above. A fair share of the blame for this should go to the developers of mill lands on which midtown Mumbai’s new office district has sprung up. They opposed architect Charles Correa’s plan to pool mill land and use a third of that space for creating public utilities such as better roads and footpaths.

Still, tragedies like this stampede can be prevented. This is what we need to do:

1) Immediately increase the capacity of staircases, platforms and ticket counters at Mumbai’s railway stations. These facilities should be designed to service peak demand at each station. The table below shows the standards used to grade capacity of platforms and staircases or walking facilities as per Fruin Level of Service. Most of Mumbai’s stations operate at the “F” level of service or worse during peak hours and need immediate improvement. Also, wherever possible we should create concourse areas where people can meet, congregate or wait if it’s raining.

2) Provide dedicated facilities such as sidewalks for passengers entering and exiting stations. Again, these facilities should be designed to handle peak-hour demand. One way of creating this capacity for the high-demand central Mumbai stations of Dadar, Elphinstone Road, Lower Parel, Parel, Currey Road is to lay an elevated walkway network connecting all these stations and destinations from Worli in the west to Sewri in the east. The image below shows the possible routes for these walkways, which could be modelled on New York’s famous High Line.

3) India is laying 300 kilometres of metro rail but under-designing the staircases, platforms and ticketing areas for it. The Delhi Metro is a prime example of inadequate support facilities. This stampede should be a wake-up call. Future metro networks should be opened only after ensuring their support facilities are adequate as per the Fruin Level of Service or an equivalent standard.

The tragedy at Elphinstone Road station clearly shows that we treat people who take public transport as second-class citizens; we provide them sub-standard facilities. This has to change, and all of us have to fight to bring this change about. We need to build a memorial to the people who died in this stampede. Mumbai should be a city where people are encouraged to walk or take public transport, and not get killed for doing so.

Madhav Pai is a transport planning expert and India Director for WRI India Ross Center.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.


SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.