The five-member Western Railway committee probing the reasons behind the September 29 stampede at Elphinstone Road station has blamed rain and “confusion” for the tragedy that claimed 23 lives. The committee submitted its report Tuesday night.
“The stampede probe committee concluded that the incident occurred due to a sudden downpour of heavy rains and accumulation of commuters on the foot overbridge and staircase at around 10 am on September 29. 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 committee also recommended certain short term and long term measures for Mumbai Suburban stations,” the Railway Board said in its official statement.
Ravinder Bhaker, Chief Public Relations Officer, Western Railway, said the incident was caused due to panic and confusion created on the bridge, coupled with rains. “No one can be held responsible for the incident,” he said.
With the probe report also underlining a delay in issuing the tender for a second foot overbridge at the station, the Railway Board has now constituted a high-level expert committee to inquire into the reasons for the delay.
The board will probe why it took 18 months to upload the Notice Inviting Tender (NIT) for the construction of a new foot overbridge (FOB) even though the work was sanctioned in the Railway Budget in March 2016.
The tender floated for the bridge was incidentally uploaded on the same day the stampede on the staircase of the foot overbridge at Elphinstone Road station claimed 23 lives and left 34 passengers injured. A day later, the five-member committee of the Western Railway (WR), headed by the chief safety officer, was formed to inquire into the reasons of the stampede, a report of which was submitted to the general manager of Western Railway Tuesday night.
“It is brought out that the issue of Notice Inviting Tender (NIT) for Elphinstone Road FOB took about 18 months. Railway Board has decided to constitute a high level expert committee to inquire into the reasons for delay in the whole process and suggest ways and means to ensure that such delays can be minimised in future,” an official statement from the WR read.
The board’s committee will be headed by former chief vigilance commissioner Pratyush Sinha, Director Safety, Railway Board, while Pankaj Kumar, Chairman (Economic Affairs Council), Confederation of Indian Industry, Vinayak Chatterjee and Subodh Jain, former member (Engineering), Railway Board, will be the other members of the committee. They have been given a period of three months to probe the reasons that caused the delay.
“The railway ministry has taken the delay in uploading the tender online very seriously. The committee has been formed to probe into the details of what delayed the process. They will take three months to go through records and examine reason for the same. The suggestions received from the report will be implemented and due action will be taken,” said Anil Saxena, Director General, Public Relations, Railway Board.
The alternative bridge connecting Parel and Elphinstone Road stations is expected to be 36 metre long and 12 metre wide, as opposed to the present bridge which is 32 metre long and 5 metre wide. The work on constructing the bridge was initiated by former Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu in 2015. The project had received a sanction of around Rs 12 crore in 2016. According to the details of the tender, while the estimates for the construction of the bridge were sanctioned and later confirmed by the WR finance department on August 22 this year, uploading the tender on the WR website took time.
“I am yet to see the terms of reference of what the probe requires from us to do. I am yet to receive the final orders. If it asks the committee to fix responsibility on a particular department, which caused the delay, we will do so,” Jain said.
The WR committee had issued a notice inviting members of the public having knowledge relating to the incidence and any connected matter to come forward with evidence. The probe is based on evidence received from the witnesses, the written statements of injured persons and railway officials of Elphinstone Road station, and analysis of the footage of all CCTV cameras installed at the station, including those on the foot overbridge, according to officials.
Earlier, a probe by the Dadar police had also mentioned that a confusion created due to someone saying “phool gir gaya” (flowers have fallen) with “pul gir gaya” (bridge has fallen) was identified as the trigger for the incident.
Suggestions like relocating the booking counter, regulation of vendors’ entry during rush hours, additional CCTV cameras for monitoring, and hotline facility at stations have been recommended in the report. It also recommends disallowing commuters to carry heavy items with them on the bridge and in trains during peak hours.