The tragic stampede on the over bridge connecting Mumbai Elphinstone and Parel stations has thrown up once more the question of how an emergency situation is not factored in when rapidly expanding the urban infrastructure.
While the Mumbai tragedy site was an old structure badly in need of expansion, bridges, fly-overs and Metro stations, to name a few, come up literally overnight. True, they are meant to ease traffic and the way we commute.
But in an emergency situation, such as road cave-in, an accident or a pile-up, there is instant chaos. Metro commuters are a frequent witness to the congestion following break-down in one of the lines or someone committing suicide or accidentally slipping on to the tracks. Often, engineers under-estimate the footfall that any new infrastructure could invite.
No sooner are fly-overs built than they are are clogged with vehicles. Even as the Metro network is expanding, hoping to ease congestion at some of the transit points, several stations ~ Mandi House, for instance ~ appear to be over-run by commuters. The exits too may not be enough to quickly evacuate people.
There are no mock drills conducted in any building in the Capital, leave alone Metro or Railway stations. No one knows what to do or who to turn to in the event of even a minor mishap or fire. Most casualties can be prevented if only officials are trained to quickly swing into action and calm down panicking public and regulate their safe exit.
Talking of a parallel situation to Parel, a colleague recalled that on the few days of torrential downpour, Metro commuters had huddled up in the station, waiting for the rain to abate. There was a huge rush at the exit points as people just stood, watching the rain.
Passengers filled the stairs leading to underground Metro stations, leaving no space for anyone to move past them. Commuters getting off escalators had to squeeze themselves out. One hates to imagine how even a little push or stumble could lead to a stampede, much like in Mumbai.