It is okay to point fingers at ministers, bureaucrats and Government Departments. But it is us, who are also to be blamed. When and how do we start correcting ourselves?
Dr Pramod Pathak
A day before Dussehra, tragedy struck in Mumbai on September 29 at the bridge that connects Western Railway and Central Railway lines at Elphinston Road Station (WR). More than twenty people died and about 30 were injured. There was fatal stampede as people, the commuters on the bridge, heard that there was short circuit. Later on it was said to be a rumour of falling bridge. From a few pictures viral on the media, it emerged that the anti-social elements snatched the gold ornaments from the victim ladies. Many commuters must have lost their mobiles and pockets. How many ladies must have experienced sort of molestation? As an ex-commuter of the Mumbai locals, who has been pickpocketed once, I can guess these too must have occurred but went unreported as the most common occurrence. I suspect the first rumour about the mishap must have been started by such rowdy elements.
Cause and Action
Media was strident on this issue. Initially all of them blamed the Minister of Modi Government for the apathy towards Mumbaikars. When it was known that Railway Minister was very much there and that the budget allocation for the bridge was already made, the tone changed. Then media attempted to expose the railway administration and the railway police. There was no pinpointing as it entailed field work and tracking. Now that a committee is expected to go into these lapses, possibly the cause will come out or even may not. Two most important problems were mentioned. First, the railway administration lobby that has resisted changes in set up for decades. No minister has ever showed guts to break it. A separate corporation for Mumbai locals which can exclusively pay attention to the problems of locals has not been allowed to be formed by this lobby for the very obvious reason of osing control over an opulent milching cow. There was a suggestion that host of these officials be transferred to distant Kalyan and Badlapur, thereby, forcing them to report to their Mumbai offices to get first-hand experience of commuting on locals. Second was the nexus of the hawkers in the station areas and bridges and the railway police authorities. Helpless Mumbaikar knows this nexus. Again, no Minister has ever been able to break it. Occasionally some political outfits take to forceful removal of these hawkers on some station, but a Mubaikar knows the reason. Timely hafta from the hawkers rom that station must have been missed. It is time to teach them lesson to regularise it. It goes in unison with the share for the outfit.
Dumb and Deaf Bureaucracy
It is a social phenomenon in India that bureaucracy, cutting across the innumerable departmental divisions is uniformly oblivious to the problems of masses. It is truly dumb before the Ministerial bosses and deaf to the cries of people, commuters in case of Mumbai locals. It was known that the accident spot was vulnerable for decades. The two adjoining stations Elphinston Road (WR) and Lower Parel (CR) were the closest link between the two railways. While Dadar East and Dadar West were official crossing points, the above two were unofficially connected by open tracks. People crossed over tracks in between running locals to avoid rush at the Dadar crossover bridge and to daily save 5-10 min of time. Since inception of these two stations till about 1980s, if I remember correctly, there was no connecting bridge there. When it was built, the dumb and deaf bureaucracy planned it a narrow one. It went unanticipated that with a connecting bridge, many more people would shift to these stations. The bridge soon was over crowded. Add to the woes, the hawkers were there from the beginning. If ever any commuter objected to their presence or even if small altercation ensued, neighbouring hawkers would immediately gather and intimidate individual commuters. With Police-hawker nexus in place, Mumbaikars just leave and bridge encroachment continues uninterrupted.
Indiscipline and Lawlessness
Who is to blame or to take blame for the stampede? It is us, the People who unabashedly patronise these hawkers; it is us who refuse to follow any type of disciplined behaviour, who rush to save only ourselves without bothering for others. Stampedes regularly occur in our country in places where there are large gatherings, at the Melas, at the pilgrimage locations during annual festivals. Invariably it is such trivial rumours immediately resulting in stampede and people get trampled. I always feel that these are deliberately created by notorious elements and goons to take advantage of the situation or even to play fun with people. I can envisage the situation on the bridge. Some four five goons connived either to have good pickpocketing time or even to watch the fun of stampede. They just ran though the rush loudly calling people to leave the place as either the bridge was giving away, or short circuit or other trivial cause. Looking them running, rest of the people got panicked and started running, elbowing others to save themselves. Those who could not balance or were not able to resist the pressure, fell down and were trampled. Ladies and old people are the most vulnerable. The goons who ran through the crowd didn’t get caught in stampede and possibly waited for their game. That was what happened at the WR-CR junction. Those who were seen removing the ornaments could be the suspects for creating stampede.
Need to be Disciplined
It will continue on and on as long as we the People do not decide to behave. We admire the disciplined behaviour of the American and European societies. Those of us who have visited these countries on many occasions see those people always in queues and not making double line. It was this inculcated disciplined behaviour that did not let the stampede occur during 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre. Not one casualty was reported on account of stampede. We are not in habit of forming queues; even if forced these days, it is always double line queue. Making single file queue is not inculcated in us. It is us who flagrantly flout the road discipline. We take our vehicles and two wheelers in opposite direction on the one-way roads subjecting self and other regular vehicles to accident. It is usually to save short distance U-turn to reach the desired location on the other side of the one-way road. It is us who continue to block the road during traffic jam not letting half road open for traffic from other side to pass. It further aggravates the situation. We are not taught in our Primary school to behave on roads and unruly behaviour of school and college students has become the way of life, even if their parents are from second generation, highly educated families. This indiscipline is rooted in self-centred behaviour. Lack of social sense, resulting lawlessness and rowdy behaviour is the cost that we as society pay on such occasions. It is okay to point fingers at Ministers, bureaucrats and Government Departments. But it is us, who are also to be blamed. When and how do we start correcting ourselves?
(The writer is senior columnist)