The death toll in the stampede on a foot-over bridge linking Parel and Elphinstone railway stations went up to 23 on Saturday. The reason behind the tragedy that left the economic capital in shock seems sheer carelessness on part of the local railway administration, which still seems to be a victim of the colonial-era bureaucracy.
The project for widening of the foot overbridge (FOB) at Elphinstone station – costing just about Rs 12 crore – was sanctioned in the 2016-17 budget. The authorities failed to implement the small project in 18 months, despite the fact that former Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had delegated the powers to general managers to handle such projects.
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After the stampede on Friday, Prabhu said in a statement that during his tenure, he had sanctioned a wider FOB at Elphinstone Road station way back in 2015, further alleging that the tender was not issued because of the railway administration’s careless attitude.
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“The concerned GM was not even supposed to get approval of railway board of detailed estimates for this project,” Times of India quoted a railway official in its report as saying.
“When projects announced in the budget for doubling and tripling of railway tracks worth thousands of crores which require multiple clearances like that of the Niti Aayog and Cabinet had been awarded, why did the GM fail to execute this project,” he added.
The report claims that widening of the FOB was announced in last year’s budget but the transporter had failed to award the tender costing just Rs 11.86 crore even though 18 months had gone by since then.
Tender for new foot overbridge came on the day of tragedy
Meanwhile, a report in The Indian Express claimed that as per official data, a tender inviting bids for construction at Elphinstone Road station was ironically floated soon after the stampede.
Railway officials said that it was purely a coincidence that the tender was floated on the same day as the stampede.
“Making of a tender, finalising its commercial aspects and floating it online is a continuous process. It is by mere coincidence that the tender had to be floated online on the same day when the incident happened. It is equally unfortunate. Our tender was ready with the due permissions by September 22 itself,” Ravinder Bhaker, Chief Public Relations Officer, WR, was quoted by The Indian Express.
On the other hand, a senior WR official said that projects worth small amounts often get sidelined as the funds are diverted to major projects, which are more visible to the public, adding that this could have been the reason for the delay in implementation of the project.
The existing bridge was constructed in 1972, and is used by at least 1 lakh commuters on average daily. At a meeting chaired by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on Saturday, proposals to widen 13 foot overbridges and build 10 new FOBs on WR were approved. Central Railway, too, will have 20 new FOBs in the coming days, railway officials said. Parel is on the CR line, while Elphinstone Road is on the WR line.