The opposition Congress and BJP’s ally Shiv Sena dubbed the findings of a panel that probed the Elphinstone Road station stampede an “eyewash” on Friday.
The five-member committee, led by Western Railway’s Chief Safety Officer S K Singla, said in its report that the stampede, in which 23 lives were lost, was triggered by heavy rains and “confusion”. “The situation got further aggravated when a bundle of flowers of a vendor dropped, followed by someone shouting that ‘majha phool padla’ (my flowers dropped) and some commuters mistook the word ‘phool’ (flowers) for ‘pull’ (bridge). This may have possibly triggered panic and led to the stampede,” the report said.
Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant said the reasons given in the report seemed illogical. “How can the railways absolve itself of the responsibility. The truth is that they ignored the deteriorating condition of infrastructure at the station despite repeated calls and alerts from the passengers,” Sawant said, adding that he had also raised the issue several times.
Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam termed the inquiry report a “cover-up” and said his party workers would conduct their own audit of the major suburban railway stations in Mumbai. “The incident took place because of criminal negligence on the part of railway officers and they should be booked. Thank God that a few people have knocked the doors of the Bombay High Court,” Nirupam said. “We have now decided to carry out our own audit of the railways infrastructure through our own structural engineers and submit it (report) to the railway authorities and the court if needed,” he said.
Sudheendra Kulkarni, the chairman of the Observer Research Foundation, that conducts studies of railways infrastructure, also said the responsibility of the tragedy lied with the officials of the public transporter. “Blaming rain and rumours is like blaming the victims who got trampled due to the long neglect of the railways. The babus sat on the file for over 18 months despite frequent submissions from several quarters. The official concerned should be booked and punished,” he said. Kulkarni said it was high time that local trains, monorail, metro and bus services be operated by an integrated multi-modal transport authority in Mumbai.
However, Vivek Sahai, the former chairman of the Railway Board, said the incident took place due to several factors adding up in a very short span of time. “I feel the stampede was the outcome of many factors occurring all of a sudden and in a very short span of time,” Sahai said. Kailash Verma, the general secretary of Mumbai Rail Pravasi Sangh, an association of activists, alleged red-tapism in the railways was responsible for the tragedy.