The Elphinstone stampede in Mumbai in which 23 lives were lost was triggered by heavy rains as also panic caused after people mistook the cries of a vendor losing grip of his flowers for the bridge collapsing, an enquiry report has said. The vendor had shouted in Marathi ‘phool padla’ which means flowers have fallen but people misunderstood it as ‘pul gir gaya’ or the bridge has collapsed, the report said.
The five-member inquiry panel, led by Western Railway’s Chief Safety Officer S K Singla, submitted its report and recommendations to WR’s General Manager Anil Kumar on Wednesday.
The probe said none of the witnesses supported the claim that the chaos was caused by a short circuit on the bridge.
WR’s Chief PRO Ravinder Bhakar, while sharing the details of the report with the mediapersons in Mumbai, said, “The stampede took place because of the unexpected heavy rain which forced the public outside the station to rush to the staircases which were already crowded.”
“Due to the incessant rain, the constant flow of the passengers further increased which resulted in overcrowding of the bridge,” he said.
“Meanwhile, a vendor who was carrying a big sack of flowers lost his balance and shouted in Marathi ‘phool padla’, which people misunderstood as ‘pul gir gaya’ and they started running and people got trampled,” Bhakar said.
The statements of as many as 30 injured passengers, local residents and the GRP and RPF personnel were recorded to reach the conclusion, Bhakar said.
He said the team went to the homes of 10 injured passengers to record first-hand accounts of the fateful day.
The CCTV footage from 9 am to 11 am was also examined and the panel probed each movement very minutely, he said.
To a question whether it was the railways’ fault in the incident, Bhakar said, “We cannot blame one staffer or department for this incident. I’m not denying that there were lacuna in the present system. Inadequate facilities are part of the report. We have mentioned them in the three parts of the reports of the incident.” “As per the CCTV footage, at 9.55 am the flow of passengers was normal and uniform. The rain started around 10.09 am and subsequently the passengers started gathering at the station as well as the staircases of the bridge,” Bhakar said.
“At 10.15 am, a passenger carrying a sack of flowers was also seen heading to the staircase who, after some time, shouted that his flowers had fallen. It triggered a sense of panic and everything happened in a very short span from 10.17 am to 10.24 am,” he said.
He said the panel has recommend some short, medium and long-term suggestions to prevent such incidents.
The panel has recommended some multi-level coordination and preventive measures like better communication of all agencies with railways, station masters and other staffers to be equipped with wireless handsets.
It has also recommended restriction in travelling in peak hours with heavy luggage, shifting of booking office from the circulating area, where commuters can walk, widening of the staircases, more CCTV cameras in circulating areas and in dark spots,” he said.
He also said simultaneously another multi-disciplinary team is conducting an audit of all the suburban stations and it is expected to submit its report soon, following which the department would take decisions.
The movement of commuters, mainly vendors, carrying baskets stuffed with goods during peak hours should also be restricted.
Other recommendations include relocating the elevated booking office to widen the staircase (the elevated booking office is adjacent to the staircase where the stampede occurred). It suggested that officials use a quick mode of communication apart from mobile phones to ensure timely reaction.
Bhakar also said an expert committee has been nominated by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal to look into the reasons for delay in issuing tender for a foot overbridge (FOB) at the Elphinstone Road station which would suggest ways and means to ensure that such delays do not happen in future.
This committee would be headed by Pratyush Sinha (retired chief vigilance commissioner), Vinayak Chaterjee, Subodh Jain (retired member of board, engineering), he said.
On September 29, 23 people were killed in the rush hour stampede on a narrow overbridge linking Elphinstone Road and Parel suburban stations during heavy rain.