With the stampede on a foot overbridge at Elphinstone railway station leaving Mumbaikars shell-shocked, parties including BJP 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 this morning.
The Sena, which has been at loggerheads with the BJP, was the most vicious in its 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 told PTI.
“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 the Railway ministry 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 NCP, 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 Prabha Devi, 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.
Leader of Opposition in the 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 (NCP) said the government, instead of bringing in bullet trains at this stage, should focus on developing stations and improving passenger safety.