On 29th September, 2017, the once called 'Giran-gaon' or the "city of mills", the area around Elphinstone Road and Parel stations in central Mumbai filled with the screams of the innocent people.
Who is to be blamed for this irrevocable tragedy?
Government? Or the people themselves?
To understand this, the anatomy of a stampede is the first stage. Elphinstone station has a lone foot bridge opening up to the western side of the station where most offices in the area are located.
Thousands of employees and labourers alight at these two stations, after a struggling travel by trains from distant suburbs. Crossing that narrow over bridge is nothing short of a battle for them.
Barely six feet wide, this foot bridge has been put under increasing strain over the years. Over one lakh people use this during peak hours. The chaos that pushes the density of people to 10 people per square feet. This was the most obvious cause of stampede itself.
We know that crowd were large and primed for disaster but they were not violent.
According to people present at the scene, a rough series of events unfolded something like this: A sudden downpour caused the people to scramble up the foot bridge that connects the Elphinstone and Parel Stations. The railing, a narrow strip of metal, groaned under pressure, causing the people to assume the bridge is falling.
There is an important distinction to be made here. Most crowd disasters are not panic driven they're craze driven. People at events like concerts, rallies move towards something, causing a disaster. What happened in Mumbai was because people were terrified. They were the victims and hence the most vulnerable stake holders. No one in the crowd could possibly cause the stampede, and no one could have prevented it. So, who's responsible?
A crowd of such density the bridge accommodated at that time was not something RPF could have controlled. The infrastructure itself was primed to improve back in 2015, when demands for an increase in the size of the footbridge were made to former railway minister Suresh Prabhu by Shiv Sena MP Rahul Shewale. A sanction of ₹ 11.86 crore for the construction of a foot over bridge was made, and the demand was reiterated by Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant via a letter in 2016. Sources say that the status of that construction is unknown, with the money apparently spent on a bridge on the eastern side of the station, which is used less.
What isn’t a mystery, however, is that people have been immensely worried about this bridge. Social media is rife with posts about it for the past few years, with people trying desperately to bring to light the plight of passengers.
The simple addition of another footbridge on the western side of the platform, an extension of the width of the platform itself, and permanent barricades maintaining the inflow and outflow of the foot traffic will cost the government a minuscule sum when compared to what it’s willing to spend on vanity projects, and would serve a much larger number of people.
Not only the current government is to be blamed, but, the one that was serving us before, and the one before that. This goes all over back to the people serving this country from the very first day of Independence of our country.
It is time to be angry, yes. But, it is also time to reflect and question. Governments running unchecked and brazen despite being directly responsible for these deaths. Civic bodies that do not take citizen sentiment into account are responsible. You and I, with our ability to reach out to people on various levels to educate them, are responsible because we decided not to do the same.
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