It has been a month since the horrific stampede at the foot overbridge of Elphinstone which claimed the lives of at least 23 people on 29 September. The state government has now sought the help of the army to build the new bridge by January 31.
The bridge would be connecting Elphinstone and Parel stations and would be temporary. The Western Railway has floated tenders for the construction of a new, 12-metre-wide foot overbridge; the Central Railways has already started working on this. Once this bridge is ready for use, the Army’s temporary bridge is likely to be dismantled.
Ashish Shelar, BJP’s Mumbai president, had met with Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman on October 6. He had submitted a demand for building six-foot overbridges with assistance from the military engineering wing for speedy relief to commuters.
While paying a visit to the Elphinstone Road Station with Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, Mr Fadnavis reportedly said, “The army said they could build a bridge in a short span…We are taking the Army’s help in building a new foot overbridge at the Elphinstone Road station and two other suburban train stations in Mumbai.”
The engineering wing of the army shall also build two other FOBs, at Currey Road and Ambivali (beyond Kalyan) stations.
The Defence Minister had explained that the urgency of the situation had prompted the necessity to rope in the Indian Army. She added that the Army is ‘happy to help’ to better the condition at the Elphinstone foot overbridge.
Railways Minister, Piyush Goyal, has expressed his gratitude to the Defence Minister.
Criticisms from various sectors
However, this decision by Chief Minister Fadnavis has given rise to several criticisms. Several ministers like that of Punjab CM, Amarinder Singh and Omar Abdullah have criticised the move.
A similar incident took place in 2010 when Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games; the army was called to rebuilt in record time a bridge that had suddenly crashed near a key stadium.
Again, last year, the army was made to build a floating bridge on the river Yamuna for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s “Art of Living” event. As per various reports, the army refused to make the bridge. Senior officers were not ready to guarantee complete safety to the attendees of the event but were asked to continue with the construction. The reason given by the organizers for involving the army was the risks accompanying the attendance of various high-ranking officials. Around 120 personnel had been assigned to the task. This incident too invited a lot of criticisms.
It is beyond doubt that Mumbai, at this point, needs the immediate building of bridges, especially between these two bustling rail stations. But what is questionable is that should the Indian Army be used for purposes which should be taken care of by the public works department?