A city that will soon have a bullet train doesn’t even have a safe railway bridge, commented angry residents in Mumbai after a stampede left 22 dead and over 30 wounded this morning.
The British-era bridge connecting the busy Elphinstone Road and Parel train stations is always overcrowded, and over the years, there have been multiple warnings of a disaster waiting to happen.
Many had tweeted their concern, and one tweet tagging former Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over a year ago was almost prophetic.
This morning, many events collided to produce the tragedy that they had feared.
Four trains arrived around the same time, and a huge crowd tried to get out. The bridge was already crowded after sudden, heavy rain that had people scurrying for cover. Some say a loud bang after a short circuit led to panic. A witness said there were rumors of the old bridge collapsing. Within moments, many were crushed and injured.
“People do not need an expensive bullet train…first repair these bridges that we use every day,” said a survivor.
Among the most cutting political reactions to the tragedy came from the ruling BJP’s ally Shiv Sena.
“You have money for bullet trains, but not for repairing the bridge…You let the poor passengers die…and for moneyed passengers, you talk about bullet trains,” said the Sena’s Sanjay Raut, calling the stampede a public massacre.
Arvind Sawant, a Sena parliamentarian, had written to Suresh Prabhu last year requesting repair work on the bridge.
In his reply in February 2016, Mr. Prabhu had assured that the bridge would be extended and widened. He had also cited “paucity of finances, operational constraints or other compelling circumstances” for the inability to respond to such requests.
Piyush Goyal, who took over the Railway Ministry earlier this month after a series of train accidents, said: “I have issued directions for safety and capacity audit of a foot over bridges in Mumbai where there is congestion. Wherever there is a need for a foot over bridges to be widened, we will do it immediately on high priority.”
Overcrowding has caused many deaths on Mumbai’s local train network, according to an Observer Research Foundation report. In the past six months, close to 1,600 people have been killed; most of them fell off trains and a few died while crossing railway tracks.