On September 29, a stampede on a hyper-congested bridge in Mumbai left 23 dead and scores more injured. The incident was sadly not hard to understand. With a population of more than 20 million squeezed into a tiny city that relies heavily on transport infrastructure that is decades old and has not been adequately upgraded, Mumbai is a series of disasters waiting to happen. More than 8 million people travel on the creaking Mumbai suburban local trains every day, and on average nine people die daily while using them.

In effect, every three days there is a death toll on the Mumbai local railway system as bad as the stampede on September 29, a horrific reminder of how India’s commercial hub can barely guarantee the safety of its residents, let alone help them prosper. Few believe the city will do much about it. The Mumbai spirit has gone from a symbol of resilience into a caricature, a cliche to be trotted out every time the more and more frequent disasters hit the city.

As expected, there was plenty of commentary about the disaster, as well as what Mumbai can or must do to change.

  1. “A city that aspires to be be true to its people, let alone be world class, cannot survive on spirit alone; it will eventually break down. That breaking point is nearing fast, and the sooner Maharashtra’s and Delhi’s lawmakers wake up to it, the better,” writes Sachin Kalbag, Resident Editor of the Hindu.
  2. “If Charles Correa’s vision for Mumbai had been implemented in the 1990s, the Elphinstone Road stampede could have been avoided,” says a leader in Mint.
  3. “Don’t expect Narendra Modi, who often claims he has become prime minister to do “big things”, and not “small things”, to do anything. Radical urban governance reforms are too big a thing for him, or for Mumbai’s chauvinistic politicians, to even attempt. Meanwhile, my beloved Mumbai, your agony will continue,” writes Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairman of the Observer Research Foundation in the Indian Express.
  4. “Coordination and cooperation among all public authorities concerned needs to take place not just in response to a crisis but as a regular and routine feature of the governance set-up. This requires a single coordinating agency,” write Sahil Gandhi, Assistant Professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and Vaidehi Tandel, Junior Fellow, IDFC Institute, in the Hindu.
  5. Darryl D’Monte, a veteran environment journalist, in The Wire reminds us of the history of the area where the stampede happened, and how urban authorities completely failed to prepare or adapt to the transformation of Elphinstone-Lower Parel from a mill workers space to a white collar office destination.
  6. “What happened at Elphinstone could have, at least, been delayed a few years with superior crowd management techniques. There are ample models available, and ample scope of improvement. The police in India is trained to “control” crowds, not “manage” them,” writes Harnidh Kaur, a policy analyst, in Mint.
  7. “Mumbai deserves respect in the form of sustainable, democratic development in return for the way it supports the country financially. We don’t need development that has gone “crazy”! We need our voice to be heard, acted on the way Mumbai wants it to be,” writes Aditya Thackeray, president of the Yuva Sena, on NDTV.
  8. “What Mumbai needs is a scientific, data-driven overhaul of plans. Projects must be reoriented based on today’s needs and numbers, and must mandatorily provide capacity for today’s crowds. That would require a grounded and syncretic planning and execution. So long as ideas are lifted, without modification, from Shanghai or Dubai or elsewhere, hand-wringing at Mumbai’s unusual densities will continue,” says a leader in the Indian Express. “India’s only truly global city deserves better.”
  9. Activists and experts have blamed the existing structure of railways that puts Western and Central railway chiefs at the helm of suburban railway, but they are also saddled with the responsibility of long-distance trains and freight operations,” writes Aroosa Ahmed in the Hindustan Times. “From 2010, proposals from passenger activists to have an independent authority for the suburban railway network to run day-to-day services, maintain them, address commuter woes, have gone unheeded. Post the stampede, things may change.

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