Mumbai: The entire city was in a tizzy as it witnessed commuters falling like nine pins from the Elphinstone Road foot overbridge, even as others were crushed in a stampede or died due to shock and suffocation. The consensus in the public domain was that the Railways need to look within and put more efficient systems and processes in place. The report of the Chief Safety Officer of the Western Railways could have been the first step in this direction.
Chief Safety Officer of Western Railways S K Singla has virtually given a clean chit to his parent organisation and observed in his report: ‘‘Nobody is responsible for this incident.’’
Rather, the 5-member panel concluded that the cause of the tragedy was heavy rain, which forced people at ticket windows to rush towards the staircase, even though it was jam packed; the sudden surge compounded the problem, igniting rumour and triggering panic which led to the stampede.
FPJ feels this is a very simplistic explanation for the tragedy, which could have been avoided with better crowd management at entry and exit points, better dissemination of information on the public address system, and a swift response by the Railway Police Force.
Our earlier reports have dwelt on this aspect – that there was only one Railway Police Force constable on duty on September 29, the day of the stampede. Also, there was a glaring omission on the part of the station master as he made no efficient use of the public address system, even after receiving calls on his internal railway number; the situation further aggravated owing to the poor response to the emergency situation by the lone RPF staffer on the bridge.
Most importantly, despite receiving extensive training in crowd management, the RPF could be of little assistance on that fateful day. As such, our reports concluded that there was multiple failure in different layers.
The committee recorded the statements of the witnesses and injured persons in the stampede. They have also vetted the footage of the Close Circuit Television Camera installed at the station and the other cameras located on the bridge.
“This safety committee drew its conclusion after it obtained the account of at least 30 persons who witnessed and survived the stampede on the bridge. These included at least 18 injured persons admitted in the hospital, ten persons who were discharged from the hospital, and two eye-witnesses whose statements were recorded by the enquiry committee,” said Ravinder Bhakar, Chief Public Relations Officer of the western railways.
According to the report, the stampede took place after a commuter mistook the utterance by a flower vendor who had said ‘majha phool padla’ (My flowers fell) after he tripped on the stairs. The commuter wrongly construed it as ‘Pul gir gaya’ (The bridge has collapsed).” “The maximum number of survivors and eye-witnesses to the incident have confirmed the rumour which caused people to panic; that, in turn, led to the stampede. There were subsequently other rumours of a ‘short circuit’ which the committee ruled out in the enquiry,” said a western railway official.
Relocating booking offices to ground level to widen the staircase which is adjacent to the foot overbridge.
An additional staircase could also be provided.
Station and security staff need to be equipped with wireless handsets.
Movement of vendors during peak hours should be restricted.
Outsourcing of policing to security agencies.
WHAT FPJ WANTED
- Identification of similar high-risk railway stations.
- Asking railway police to maintain lane discipline
- Zero tolerance policy towards hawkers on FOB’s
- Drafting a policy to levy charge on builders who construct huge commercial complexes.
- Stop using building materials like granite, which become slippery when wet
- Width of every staircase should be standardized, plus distance be maintained from overhead train cables to prevent sparking