The Mumbai Police has almost completed its probe into the Elphinstone Road station stampede case that killed 23 and left 39 injured on September 29. Four days after tragedy struck Mumbai during the morning rush hour, the police probe has found two main factors contributing to the stampede — the rains that compelled commuters to stay put on the foot overbridge, and the constant crowd of commuters alighting from the trains adding to the crowd, according to sources. The sources said the probe had ruled out dereliction of duty on the part of railway officials.
The Dadar police station where the Accidental Death Register (ADR) has been recorded has studied footage from two CCTVs — one at the booking counter and the other near the exit — that have recorded the crowd movements. While none of them captured the actual stampede, the footage (10.26 am) of one shows a few people trying to record something on their mobile phones. The phones are directed toward the stairway, where the stampede took place. Sources said the entire episode lasted for nine minutes — between 10.26 am and 10.35 am.
The probe has found that the downpour led to commuters staying put at the end of the bridge to avoid getting drenched. However, with trains arriving at Elphinstone Road every four minutes, the crowd at the entry of the staircase increased and they pushed the crowd from behind. “As it was raining heavily, commuters decided to stay put at the exit. Every four minutes, a train arrives on the platforms, adding to the crowd. This crowd started pushing the crowd on the stairway .This was the primary reason behind the stampede. According to witnesses, what added to this was a cry of frustration, ‘phool gir gaya’ (flowers have fallen), from a flower seller mistakenly construed as ‘pul gir gaya’ (bridge has fallen). Around the same time is when a young girl slipped on the stairway leading to a domino effect and ensuing a stampede. Looking to escape, people trampled over one another. Within ten minutes, it was all over,” explained a senior official privy to the probe details.
In his statement, the station manager has said he called up the Government Railway Police (GRP) after a ticket collector informed him of chaos on the bridge. Following the call, two GRP officials tried reaching the spot but couldn’t make it because of the crowd. The CCTV footage, however, shows a Railway Protection Force (RPF) official near the booking counter trying to make his way through the crowd. The footage shows the bridge was jam-packed and the RPF official and the crowd around him had no clue on what was happening on the staircase.
“While the GRP officials failed to make it due to overcrowding, the RPF official had no information that a stampede had happened and by the time he managed to reach the spot, the incident was over,” said an official. “More GRP men from the adjoining stations of Dadar, Mumbai Central were pressed in subsequently to help in the rescue operations,” said an official privy to the probe details. “So far, there has not been any evidence to indicate that there has been a dereliction of duty on the part of the railway officials,” said the official.
“At 10.26 am, one could see people trying to record something on their mobile phones and directing their cameras towards the stairway. The said crowd was on the bridge where one could only see scores of people trying hard to make their way but unable to move even an inch. The stampede lasted for a few minutes and by 10.35 am everything was over; more than 50 people are trampled upon and 22 were crushed to death in a matter of a minute or two. The local residents who rushed to the spot after hearing the loud cries and the commuters then tried to remove the bodies,” said another official.
The police said they had probed the allegations of molestation and found it to be untrue. According to a senior official, the man alleged of molesting a victim woman was actually trying to help her. “The victim got stuck in the railing of the bridge. The commuter tried to drag her out. He rested her body on his foot and was trying to pull her and grabbed her by her chest. His intention was to save her and not molest her,” said the official. Assistant Commissioner of Police Sunil Deshmukh confirmed this.
With the family of Satyendra Kumar Kanoji, who succumbed to his injuries on Saturday, wishing to conduct his final rites in Nepal, officers attached to the Dadar police station were planning to arrange for tickets. The family members, however, later decided to cremate him in Mumbai. “The victim used to live alone and worked at a garment factory. A relative who was contacted through the victim’s mobile phone by an unknown person reached KEM to claim the body. He initially expressed the desire of conducting the final rites in Nepal. He told us that he was not in the position to arrange for the tickets. We decide to make arrangements for the same but later the family changed their plans and he was cremated in the city,” said ACP Sunil Deshmukh.