A railway inquiry has blamed a downpour and panic due to people mistaking the cries of a vendor for the September 29 Elphinstone foot overbridge (FOB) stampede in Mumbai that killed 23 people and recommended against passengers carrying heavy luggage during peak hours.
A five-member inquiry panel, led by Western Railway (WR) Chief Safety Officer S K Singla, submitted its report and recommendations to WR General Manager Anil Kumar today.
The vendor had shouted in Marathi "phool padla" which means flowers have fallen but people misunderstood it as "pul gir gaya" or the bridge has collapsed, WR Chief PRO Ravinder Bhakar said in Mumbai quoting the report.
He said none of the witnesses supported the claim that the chaos was caused by a short circuit on the bridge.
The panel recommended "restriction in travel with heavy luggage during peak hours, shifting of the booking office from the circulating area where commuters can walk, widening of the staircases more CCTV cameras in circulating areas and in dark spots", Bhakar said.
In a related development, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal formed a committee today to look into the 18-month delay in issuing tender for an additional FOB at the Elphinstone Road station.
The committee, headed by former central vigilance commissioner Pratyush Sinha, would submits its report in three months, Railway Ministry Spokesperson Anil Saxena told PTI in New Delhi. Vinayak Chatterjee of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and Subodh Jain, a retired member of the Railway Board, will be the panel's members. Director (Safety), Railway Board, Pankaj Kumar will be the member secretary.
The tender was incidentally floated on September 29 -- the day 23 people were killed in the stampede on the existing decades-old foot overbridge.
Bhakar, while sharing the details of the report with the mediapersons, said, "The stampede took place because of the unexpected heavy rain which forced the public outside the station to rush to the staircases which were already crowded."
"Due to the incessant rain, the constant flow of the passengers further increased which resulted in overcrowding of the bridge," he said.
"Meanwhile, a vendor who was carrying a big sack of flowers lost his balance and shouted in Marathi 'phool padla', which people misunderstood as 'pul gir gaya' and they started running and people got trampled," Bhakar said.
The statements of 30 injured passengers besides those of local residents and the General Railway (GRP) and Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel were recorded to reach the conclusion, Bhakar said.
He said the team went to the homes of 10 injured passengers to record first-hand accounts of the fateful day.
The CCTV footage from 9 am to 11 am was also examined and the panel probed each movement very minutely, he said.
To a question whether it was the railways' fault in the incident, Bhakar said, "We cannot blame one staffer or department for this incident. I'm not denying that there were lacuna in the present system. Inadequate facilities are part of the report. We have mentioned them in the three parts of the reports of the incident."
"As per the CCTV footage, at 9.55 am the flow of passengers was normal and uniform. The rain started around 10.09 am and subsequently the passengers started gathering at the station as well as the staircases of the bridge," he said.
"At 10.15 am, a passenger carrying a sack of flowers was also seen heading to the staircase who, after some time, shouted that his flowers had fallen. It triggered a sense of panic and everything happened in a very short span from 10.17 am to 10.24 am," Bhakar said.
He said the panel has recommend some short, medium and long-term suggestions to prevent such incidents.
The panel has recommended some multi-level coordination and preventive measures like better communication of all agencies with railways, station masters and other staffers to be equipped with wireless handsets.
Bhakar also said simultaneously another multi- disciplinary team is conducting an audit of all the suburban stations and it is expected to submit its report soon, after which the department will take action.
Other recommendations include relocating the elevated booking office to widen the staircase (the elevated booking office is adjacent to the staircase where the stampede occurred). It suggested that officials use a quick mode of communication apart from mobile phones to ensure timely reaction, he said.
On September 29, 23 people were killed in the rush hour stampede on a narrow overbridge linking Elphinstone Road and Parel suburban stations during heavy rain.
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