At least 22 people were killed and 39 others were injured in a rush hour stampede on a foot overbridge (FOB) connecting the local railway stations of Elphinstone Road and Parel in central Mumbai Friday morning. Witnesses said that at 10.15 am, a sudden downpour saw people rushing for cover to the north-bound booking office staircase of the FOB. More people gathered as trains pulled into both stations. These are being cited as primary reasons for the stampede.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, who was in Mumbai, ordered the chief railway safety officer of the Western Railway to conduct an inquiry into the incident. Railway officials also attributed the incident to “unusual mob behaviour” that led to panic.
Commuters who witnessed the incident said the staircase of the FOB saw a sudden rush of commuters, leaving no space for movement and bringing pedestrian movement to a standstill. Screams were heard from those trying to escape the weight of people leaning on them and some were seen jumping off the bridge.
“According to the primary information received, heavy rainfall accompanied with immense crowd on the bridge caused the incident. Crowd entering the station and exiting got locked on the staircase. It is an unusual incident,” Purushottam Karad, Deputy Commissioner of Police for the Western Region, Government Railway Police (GRP), said.
“The rain was unprecedented and people were caught unaware… the sudden rain made people from the approach road take shelter at FOB and at the staircase. This led to overcrowding the exit. Prima facie rumours such as falling of FOB created panic, leading to tremendous push from behind, towards the exit leading to stampede. There was no structural damage to the FOB which can be attributed to the stampede,” an official statement of Western Railway stated.
Shruti Lokre, a lawyer who commutes daily from Vashi to her office in Parel, was among those trapped in the swarm of people on the FOB. “The stampede started suddenly in front of my eyes but I couldn’t move. Before I realised, I was part of the stampede and people were swept away by the crowd. There was insane amount of people on the bridge. I could hear old ladies screaming and shouting.”
Sachin Singh, who works at a tea stall at the station, said, “It was raining heavily in the morning. Those who were inside the station preferred to remain there. However, a huge number of people on the road also rushed in to seek shelter and got stuck at that particular staircase. We heard screams for at least 30 minutes.”
Fifteen ambulances of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), a team of doctors to provide first-aid and the Fire Brigade reached the spot to escort victims to the KEM hospital in Parel. A team of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), senior railway officers and residents around the railway colony and city police also aided in escorting passengers to the hospital.
All the injured and dead brought to the KEM hospital — the last person was brought in at 11.30 am — did not have their footwear on. At the Elphinstone Road station, footwear lay strewn with flowers for the Dussehra pooja.
Eight women were among the 22 dead. Hospital dean Dr Avinash Supe said most died of asphyxia.
Anuj Kumar, was on the FOB at the time of the incident, was among the injured taken to KEM hospital. “I was under at least four men. Those beneath me were dead. I thought I will also die if I am not pulled out sooner. I remained there for 45 minutes,” Kumar said.
At least 39 people were injured, four of them critical. “Critical patients will require surgery. They have injuries on head, chest. Several have sustained fractures,” Supe said.
Doctors from surgery, emergency and orthopaedic departments were also called to tend to the injured. “We conducted triage method in which the most critical were first attended and sent to ICU. Those dead were kept in a dignified way in the corridor for relatives to identify,” Supe said. The hospital saw a four-fold increase in doctors on duty Friday.
In KEM’s casualty ward, where injured men and women lay in ward 20A, Dabishta Joshi, said, “I think it is a miracle I survived. I held on to the railing. I lost my bag, shoes, watch and mobile. Everybody around me is badly injured,” Joshi said. She was returning from a coaching class to her home in Matunga when she was caught in the chaos at Parel.
The Maharashtra government said a thorough investigation would be conducted and accountability fixed for the stampede. The government also announced Rs five lakh compensation for the families of the dead. All expenditure incurred on the treatment of the injured would be borne by the state government.
“Lack of proper infrastructure of the bridge cannot be cited as the reason for the accident. We already had plans to make an alternate bridge to connect the two stations and tenders will be floated for the same soon,” Ravinder Bhaker, CPRO, Western Railway said.
“There was no forecast of rain for Friday or the coming days by the Meteorological department. We do not want to blame the Met department or anyone else. Unusual mob behaviour accompanied by rain are the only reasons,” Bhaker said.
The local forecast for Mumbai city and suburbs issued by the India Meteorological Department Thursday for the next 24 hours stated that the sky was likely to be partly cloudy with the possibility of light rain in some areas. K S Hosalikar, Deputy Director General (Western region), IMD, said that as per the standard operating procedure, the local forecast was shared with all agencies. “According to the SOP, the local forecast was shared with authorities including the BMC, Disaster Management Cell as well as the Railways,” Hosalikar said.
BJP MP Kirit Somaiya said: “The development of Parel station complex, which included works to widen the FOBs and the length of the bridge, was waiting to happen for 15 years. There has been considerable delay in the completion of projects. While the population of the city grew, nothing was done to make the entry and exit points of stations safer.”
Additional Commissioner of Police S Jayakumar said, “Because of the rain, the crowd on the bridge thickened and that caused the stampede. An ADR has been registered and a probe is underway to ascertain the reasons that triggered the stampede.”
The Dadar police, which registered the ADR, has started recording statements of eyewitness and are also going through CCTV footage to establish the sequence of events leading to the stampede.
— (Inputs from Rashmi Rajput, Vishwas Waghmode)