On 14 March, people of Mumbai were once again shocked to hear of the collapse of a foot overbridge over a busy road near Chhatrapati Shivaji rail terminus, the headquarters of Central Railway. The bridge collapsed during evening peak hours leading to death of 6 people and injury to 30. This is the third such incident during the last 18 months in Mumbai, which has claimed a total of 30 lives.
Soon after the incident, the blame game started. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) declared that the Indian Railways (IR) is responsible as the bridge is owned by the railways. The Indian Railways washed its hands off the matter by announcing that the BMC is responsible since it was supposed to maintain the bridge. As happens after every such incident, the Maharashtra state government and the Indian Railways announced setting up enquiry committees to find out who is responsible. The real purpose of all such enquiry committees is to cool down the anger of people. Very seldom is any action taken on the findings and recommendations of the enquiry committee.
Neither the BMC nor the IR care for the lives of people. The bridge was just 30 years old and declared ‘safe’ by an ‘audit’ done last year. In July 2018, a bridge near the railway station of Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai, fell down over the railway tracks, killing two people. Many more lives would have been lost if a train had been passing under the bridge at that moment. At that time, too, a similar blame game was played between the IR and the BMC.
The BMC is one of the richest municipal corporations in the country, with more than Rs. 60,000 crore of fixed deposits in banks. Yet, it cannot find money to repair and rebuild crumbling bridges in the city. The BMC’s own study of 296 bridges in Mumbai revealed that 18 bridges, including eight FOBs (foot over bridges), need to be demolished urgently and rebuilt; the study also brought out that 48 bridges need urgent repair. The neglect of bridge repair by the BMC is the reflection of its callous attitude towards the lives of people of Mumbai.
The IR is as callous about the lives of passengers of Mumbai. The neglect of infrastructure at local train stations in Mumbai led to death of 23 people in a stampede over the Elphinstone Station Bridge in September 2017. On an average 10 people lose their lives everyday by falling off from over-crowded local trains or while crossing tracks. The IR refuses to take any responsibility of the loss of lives of thousands of lives every year due to the lack of infrastructure as well as lack of a sufficient number of trains in line with the increased number of passengers.
This callous attitude towards the lives of people must be condemned in the strongest possible words. Those responsible for such incidents must be severely punished. Our elected representatives have to be held accountable for the loss of so many precious lives as they are the ultimate policy and decision makers of these organizations.