Mumbai: Indian railway officials on Wednesday blamed bad weather for causing a deadly stampede at a Mumbai station last month, despite commuter warnings before the tragedy of a disaster waiting to happen.
Twenty-three people were killed in the crush on a narrow overcrowded footbridge at Elphinstone Road station in the centre of India’s commercial capital during morning rush hour on September 29.
Experts pointed the finger of blame at the railway network’s creaking infrastructure, which has long struggled to cope with several million daily passengers.
But an investigation by the Western Railway’s (WR) own officials concluded Wednesday that the disaster had been caused by hundreds of people rushing to the bridge’s staircase to shelter from heavy monsoon rains.
They also said a “misunderstanding” based on the similarity between the local words for “bridge” and “flower” had led commuters to believe the bridge was collapsing.
It is thought that someone in the crowd shouted “A flower has fallen” but people misunderstood it as “The bridge is falling”.
“Phool”, meaning flower, and “pool”, meaning bridge, sound similar in Hindi and Marathi.
The enquiry insisted that the WR, which is responsible for the line, was not at fault.
“Heavy rains meant people were not willing to move out of the station. There was also a misunderstanding that created panic and the stampede occurred,” Ravinder Bhakar, a spokesman for the railway, told AFP.
Some 7.5 million passengers commute in nearly 2,500 trains daily on Mumbai’s creaking colonial-era rail network, a lifeline for the city’s 20 million residents.
Travelling on it is not without its dangers, however.
An average of almost 10 people die on the suburban railway every day, either from falling off crowded trains or while crossing the tracks. Official figures show that some 3,400 people died in 2016.
Commuters say investment in the railway’s crumbling infrastructure has not kept up with the city’s burgeoning population.
According to Indian media reports there had been around 100 tweets by commuters over the last few years warning about the dangers posed by the narrow bridge at Elphinstone Road.
Following the disaster India’s Railways Minister Piyush Goyal told station managers “to spend whatever is necessary” to ensure passenger safety.
Nearly $8 billion (Dh29.38 billion) has been promised to upgrade Mumbai’s trains.