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Elphinstone Road: One week after the stampede

October 06, 2017 20:16 IST

Rediff.com captures the mood among the people at Elphinstone Road railway station, a week after 23 people died in a stampede at a footover bridge

It was this bridge that claimed 23 lives in a stampede on the morning of September 29. Just 30 metres ahead lies another chicken's neck-like narrow pathway, sandwiched between two skyscrapers. Many commuters, apart from widening of the foot over bridge, are also demanding widening of this narrow patch that could prove fatal some day given the circumstances that led to the September 29 stampede.

IMAGE: It was this bridge that claimed 23 lives in a stampede on the morning of September 29.
Just 30 metres ahead lies another chicken's neck-like narrow pathway, sandwiched between two skyscrapers.
Many commuters, apart from widening of the footover bridge, are also demanding widening of this narrow patch that could prove fatal some day given the circumstances that led to the September 29 stampede.
Photographs and Videos: Afsar Dayatar/Rediff.com

It was silly. It was freaky. It was devastating.

In under 30 minutes, 23 railway commuters, all strangers, known to each other only by the virtue of sharing their plight as railway commuters of one of the busiest and most crowded railway network, were crushed under the pile of weight of their fellow commuters as they took shelter under a narrow footover bridge to September 29 at 10.20 am to avoid the rains.

Normally, it doesn't rain much after September 15 in Mumbai, but then fate plays its own vicious game.

 

Amid scare-mongering that the bridge was coming crashing down, that there was a fire caused by the short circuit, that some flower seller slipped on the slippery bridge and those stranded in hundreds fell one on top of another, in a dangerous domino that claimed 23 lives.

A week later, at the same bridge, about the same time, life is routine.

The rush, though, was orderly, at least on the bridge that had witnessed 23 deaths just seven days ago.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, among the only political party in the state, had organised a small shraddhanjali programme to remember the dead. The party workers handed over red roses to all those who volunteered to pay their respects.

In about 20 minutes they had all gone. The pile of red roses, in front of a huge collage of all those who died, lay silently under the sun, ready to wither, just like those lives who succumbed to their nasty fate on September 29.

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BJP workers distributed red roses to whoever volunteered to pay their respects to the departed souls. The narrow chicken's-neck pathway is just another 20 metres down this road

IMAGE: BJP workers distributed red roses to whoever volunteered to pay their respects to the departed souls. The narrow chicken's-neck pathway is just another 20 metres down this road

"The people are scared. There is still fear on their faces," says Akash Devrukhe, a local and college student, who was among the very first of the good Samaritans to rush to help those, suffocating under the weight of their fellow commuters.

"Because of the rains that day many people took shelter under this bridge and then there was a rumour that the bridge was falling apart which led to the stampede. There was also some electric sparks that added to the panic and everybody started running to save their lives," says Akash explaining the cause of the stampede.

But his observations are based on the conversations he had had with his friends who were near the bridge where the stampede took place that day.

"It was such an overcrowded bridge that in the panic, they trampled upon each other. Apni, apni jaane bachakar bhag rahe the sab," he says.

"We rescued one person stuck under other commuters and took him to KEM (King Edward Memorial) Hospital," he adds.

Talk to any person who was an eyewitness that day or anybody else who spoke to Rediff.com citing what they heard and they attribute the cause of the stampede to the fear of the bridge crumbling, electrical short-circuit or a flower seller who fell down on the wet, muddy bridge and led to a domino.

Diwakar Shelke, senior police inspector, Dadar who is preparing an Accidental Death Report of the incident said that most of the eyewitnesses whose statements he had recorded to ascertain the cause of the stampede described one of the three incidents as the probable cause.

Shelke refused to comment on by when a first information report could be lodged in this case and he was focusing on investigating the probable cause of the stampede.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Rajiv Jain, Zone V, under whose jurisdiction the incident occurred said, "There is no book in the world that defines the number of days within which an FIR has to be filed. This is an ongoing inquiry and nothing more can be discussed about it at this moment."

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BJP's Shaina NC, however, has been maintaining since the day of the stampede that there could have been some miscreants at work.

Among the only BJP leader from Mumbai to attend the shraddhanjali programme organised by local party unit, Shaina NC, who too buys the bridge-falling-apart and other such theories, said, "Let's also think about who spread the rumour, understand our social responsibilities; those who shouted 'pul gir gaya, gir gaya,' are also responsible and we must now ensure that no rumour-mongering puts the lives of fellow Mumbaikars at risk."

When asked for the reason behind her confidence in alleging that it could be a man-made stampede, either with or without intention, she said, "I am not assuming or going into any conspiracy theory but there have been perpetrators."

She also assured Mumbaikars that Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and the Narendra Modi government accord prime importance to the safety and security of city's commuters.

"As a Mumbaikar and somebody who is part of the government, I can only assure that safety and security (of the commuters) will be paramount. There will be more security on railway platforms and stations; more personnel to ensure safety and security of women commuters."

Since the stampede last Friday, a posse of Railway Protection Force has been deployed at various sections of Elphinstone Road railway station.

Priya Sawant, who works at one of the garment shops at Elphinstone Road said the presence of RPF at various points on the railway station and in front of the ill-fated bridge does give her some extra confidence as she walks down it these days.

"At least they can maintain some order if such a situation were to arise again," she said.

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Like Sawant, Shaikh Mohammed Sadiq too appreciates the presence of police on the railway station and at the footover bridge.

Shaikh Mohammed Shakil's elder brother Sadiq (in yellow) showing his Aadhar card to prove that his brother's photograph in the collage behind him, and numbered 18, was not his brother. Taamil (in black tee), who is elder to Shakil, also works in one of the garment outlets at Elphinstone Road station

IMAGE: Shaikh Mohammed Shakil's elder brother Sadiq (in yellow) showing his Aadhar card to prove that his brother's photograph in the collage behind him, and numbered 18, was not his brother. Taamil (in black tee), who is elder to Shakil, also works in one of the garment outlets at Elphinstone Road station

"When I get down at Parel station there are always RPF guards there. They help commuters with their safety and concern. The Parel bridge is more narrow than the Elphinstone bridge and many people feared such a stampede would happen there and not here," he says underlining the irony.

A resident of Mumbra, a far-flung metropolitan suburb of Mumbai, had come to join work on Friday morning at a garment shop after his employer had persisted to do so.

For the last seven days he had been bereaving his brother, Shakil's death.

The youngest in the family, Shakil, 32, a tailor by profession, was crushed under the crowd September 29, leaving behind his wife, who he married eight years ago.

"When I heard about the incident I tried calling my brother. But his phone was switched off."

"Somebody said there was a short circuit and the stampede began. He (Shakil) died because of the intense pressure on his heart. Perhaps he was under a mass of people; there was no visible injury marks on his body," says Sadiq.

"My brother's dead now. I don't want any other person to go through this. I request the government and the Railways to improve the condition of this footover bridge for the convenience of those who take Mumbai locals daily," says Sadiq, who has yet received only Rs 15,000 in cash from Western Railway authorities the day he collected Shakil's body and later a cheque of Rs 4,85,000.

He said he has no idea when his family would get the rest of the compensation announced by Maharashtra government (Rs 5 lakh, ex-gratia) and another Rs 8 lakh from Railway Claims Tribunal.

Incidentally, his brother's identity was not properly ascertained and Shakil's name and number was mentioned under an unknown person's photograph.

"The one in the photo number 18 is not my brother. This is him," says Sadiq showing his younger brother's Aadhar card.

Prasanna D Zore