Mumbai “lifeline”, the suburban railway system and its attendant infrastructure of bridges and footbridges, once again proved to be a death trap. This time, six lives were lost when a footbridge leading into and out of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus collapsed in the evening rush hour. The repetitive nature of Mumbai’s urban tragedies rankles sharply, for not even a year has passed since another footbridge, in suburban Andheri, collapsed on a rainy morning in July 2018, claiming two lives. In the immediate aftermath of that tragedy, a handful of bridges across Mumbai were shut for a few days as structural audits were hastily conducted. Incredibly, the CSMT bridge that collapsed on Thursday evening was among those audited, and deemed safe for use.
The real urban tragedy in Mumbai is not just these incidents, but also their sameness. The Andheri bridge that collapsed last year had been due for repairs for over two years. The Elphinstone Road railway footbridge stampede in 2017 that claimed 22 lives came after repeated warnings by passengers that the crush-packed bridge could witness exactly such a calamity. At present, at least two key road bridges are shut for reconstruction, but others needing repairs continue to be open. Meanwhile, each time, the task of fixing accountability is not completed to any degree of satisfaction. Perhaps more sensitive in election time to popular anger, the Mumbai Police were directed to file a case of culpable homicide in the CSMT bridge collapse case, but in every previous case ranging from the stampede to the Kamala Mills fire, top officials have remained out of the ambit of investigations amid the blur of buck-passing and blame-games. Municipal officials indicted in the roads scam and drain desilting scam were recently promoted. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation raised its budgetary allocation for repairs to, and reconstruction of, bridges to a little over Rs 600 crore in 2019-20. But only minor repairs were scheduled for the bridge that collapsed, a clear indication of unscientific structural audits and also symptomatic of the band-aid approach to basic infrastructure in Mumbai. It is a tale of two cities, one that discusses the bullet train and an international financial services centre and another that attracts talent and labour but fails to build robust systems to upgrade its colonial era infrastructure.
The much-vaunted coastal road, sea links and Shivaji statue, their multi-crore price-tags jarring amid absent basic infrastructure for millions of middle class Mumbaikars, will not stanch the casualties. To be a more inclusive city, Mumbai needs to realign its planning priorities.