The Indian Army has been roped in to help build a new foot overbridge at the Elphinstone Road station in Mumbai that witnessed a deadly stampede last month killing 23 people, a move that sparked criticism on Tuesday from the opposition parties.
The announcement of the army coming in to help in the construction was made as Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal accompanied by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis visited the Elphinstone Road station.
Fadnavis said the army will also help in building foot overbridges at two other stations in Mumbai.
Sitharaman said it was probably the "first time that the army will come in to build in what could otherwise be called civil work" to avoid recurrence of the unfortunate accident in the city, which gives jobs to millions. But Elphinstone station tragedy was "so big", she said.
Twenty-three people were killed in a stampede on September 29 on the crowded foot overbridge at the Elphinstone Road station.
Speaking to reporters at the venue, Fadnavis said, "We are taking the army's help in building a new FOB at the Elphinstone Road station and at two other suburban train stations in Mumbai."
"I have been informed that the work on these bridges will be completed by January 31," he said.
But Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh said the centre's move was "atrocious" and "deplorable" and an "admission of the failure" of the government and the Indian Railways while National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said the army should have been the "last resort" to be called in "extreme emergency" and that "now it seemed to be the 1st number on speed dial."
In a statement released in Chandigarh, Singh, a former army Captain, called the decision "unprecedented".
Senior Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam took a a potshot at the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra, saying, "Hope army will not be called to fill potholes."
"A call was taken to cooperate seeing the urgency of the matter as the army has its role at the borders. The Army has come and seen, inspected and assessed where the bridge is going to be built, they will be there at every stage of the work," Sitharaman said.
The bridges will be built with the army's help at Elphinstone Road, Currey Road and Ambivili stations, Fadnavis said.
"Following the stampede, I discussed this issue (of building bridges) with Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar who took it up with Goyalji and Sitharamanji. We discussed that if the bridge was to be built in normal course, then it would take a long time and if this task is to be given to the Army, which has a vast expertise to do such a work quickly," he said.
"Subsequently, the railway minister and the defence minister along with their senior officials held deliberations and decided the Army will erect the three railway bridges," he said.
Fadnavis, who completes three years as the chief minister of Maharashtra on Tuesday, also expressed his government's gratitude to the defence ministry and the railway ministry to come forward to erect the FOBs expeditiously.
At the venue, Goyal said, "Army officers along with senior railway officials have done survey at these stations and have given an assurance to erect the FOBs at these stations by the end of January 2018."
Sitharaman said, "We all know that during natural disaster or calamities, our army chips in to provide relief to needy people. But this is the first time when our forces are extending their support to avoid the recurrence of the unfortunate accident in the city, which gives jobs to millions."