With the stampede on a foot overbridge at Elphinstone Road railway station leaving Mumbaikars shell-shocked, parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party ally Shiv Sena on Friday attacked the government for its push for the big-ticket bullet train project amid lack of rail infrastructure.
At least 22 people were killed and over 30 injured in the rush hour stampede on a narrow foot overbridge linking Elphinstone Road and Parel suburban stations during heavy rain on Friday morning.
The Sena, which has been at loggerheads with the BJP, was the most vicious in its the attack, calling the incident a "massacre".
"This incident is a public massacre for which the government and railways are responsible. We have time and again demanded that the old and dilapidated foot overbridges be redeveloped but no action has been taken yet," Sena MP Sanjay Raut said.
"The government has no time to rectify the shortcomings in the present rail system, it wants to bring in bullet trains," he added.
Referring to the tragedy, South Mumbai MP Arvind Sawant said the Sena has been justified in opposing the bullet train project.
"You cannot even operate trains running on land, then how are you supposed to run the trains in air? This (bullet train project) is a complete sham. This (Union) government is resorting to wrong policies which are against the common people," the Sena leader said.
Sawant shared his correspondence with former railway ministry Suresh Prabhu in which he demanded widening of the ill-fated overbridge.
The construction of a new bridge, connecting Western Railway and Central Railway after extension of Platform No 1 and 2 towards north side by 100 metres, was under "positive consideration" of the ministry, Prabhu had written in the letter accessed by PTI.
"The reality is that railway officers are not delivering. They are making various excuses under one pretext or the other (in executing work). They should be booked for this massacre," Sawant told reporters outside the KEM Hospital.
Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who visited the hospital, said, "Whatever happened is very bad...I will look into it".
Meanwhile, angry Sena activists raised slogans against Railway Minister Piyush Goyal outside the hospital and demanded his resignation.
A similar demand was made by the Nationalist Congress Party, with the party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Majid Memon terming the incident as a "multiple homicide".
"This is nothing but a multiple homicide that occurred due to carelessness, recklessness and total negligence. The officers should be booked for criminal negligence and the railway minister should resign," he told reporters outside the hospital.
State Samajwadi Party unit president Abu Asim Azmi said the railway officials should be held "accountable" for the tragedy.
Taking a swipe at the Centre, he said the government only knows how to change names of railway stations.
"I hold railway officers and the government responsible for this disaster. This government knows only to change the names of old stations, but does nothing to improve the infrastructure. The government changed the name of Elphinstone Road railway station to Prabhadevi, but did nothing for its face-lift. Had they done their work, this tragedy could have been averted today," Azmi said.
Terming the incident "unfortunate", the Congress said this was not the time to play politics.
"This is really unfortunate that we have lost 22 innocent people and several are injured. But this is not the time to play politics. Rather, I would advise the government to introspect where its policies are heading," Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president Ashok Chavan said.
Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Sushmita Dev said the tragedy has shaken the conscience of the nation as it exposes the lacunae in the rail safety infrastructure.
Angry Mumbaikars are questioning BJP Government's "incapability" to provide additional railway infrastructure to the city, she said.
The Congress leader said while Goyal is on a 'name-changing', 'ribbon-cutting' spree, people are anguished and demanding answers.
"It is almost a criminal negligence leading to manslaughter," she said, adding that a person had tweeted sometime ago about the state of the overbridge but the Railways did not take any action.
Dev accused the prime minister of a "huge dereliction of duty" by not according top priority to Railway safety.
"We demand an impartial judicial enquiry by a sitting judge in the entire accident," she said.
"The Prime Minister should apologise to the people of Mumbai for absolutely no infrastructure development in the city in the last 3 years," she said.
"PM Modi should give real solutions to the Railway Ministry rather than changing rail ministers."
Dev also said there should be a safety audit of all foot overbridges, platforms and overhead bridges of the entire Mumbai Suburban Railway System and the report should be presented in the Parliament.
The recommendations of the Bibek Debroy and Anil Kakodkar Committee on Railway Safety be implemented, she said.
The Modi Government, she alleged, has "misplaced" priorities. Instead of spending money on bullet trains, it is high time this money is spent on improving basic infrastructure, she said.
"You are a complete failure on good governance and at the cost of repeating I will tell the Prime Minister whether he will now remove Goyal," she asked.
She also raised the issue of the merger of Railway budget with general budget and said the BJP government is diminishing the status of railways and endangering lives of common people.
She said 259 passengers were killed, 973 injured in 29 major rail accidents since the Modi government assumed office.
India has led the world in rail accidents by recording the maximum number of causalities and accidents in 2016, she said.
Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil of the Congress said he had written to the railway ministry last year seeking a meeting of public representatives with the minister to solve the issue of overcrowding at stations in Mumbai.
"This incident should be treated as a case of murder. An FIR under IPC section 302 (murder) should be lodged against railway officials," the senior Congress leader said.
"Had the administration worked towards providing basic facilities to commuters, instead of renaming the railway station (Elphinstone) as Prabhadevi, so many lives would not have been lost," Vikhe Patil added.
Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde said the government, instead of bringing in bullet trains at this stage, should focus on developing stations and improving passenger safety.
Image: Policemen stand outside Elphinstone railway station's foot over bridge in Mumbai on Friday. Photograph: PTI Photo