Various versions of what led to the tragic stampede on a narrow foot overbridge at the busy Elphinstone Road railway station today are emerging, with some eyewitnesses claiming a “short circuit and explosion” set off the melee while others are blaming rumours for the disaster. While Riyaz Mohammad, who lost his two friends in the tragedy, claimed he saw a short circuit and heard an explosion at the southern end of the foot overbridge, another eye witness, Akhilesh Nirmal, said lightning caused by thunders triggered rumours of a short circuit. “Around 10:25 am, I saw a short circuit and heard an explosion at the south-end of the foot overbridge (FOB) staircase. I saw a woman falling off and lying dead on the ground, which caused panic among people who started pushing each other,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed, who works at a garment factory near the railway station, said his two friends Masood and Shakeel died in the melee. “They didn’t pay heed to my warning that the FOB may give in as it was overcrowded and waited there for the rain to subside,” he said. Nirmal, who works with a chartered accountancy firm, said due to unexpected rain people waited on the FOB. “Due to rains, passengers, most of them office goers, getting down the FOB stayed put. However, as the rains subsided, they started rushing down. At the same time, people were trying to climb up the FOB to reach the platform,” he said, adding a passenger fell down, and at the same time lightning occurred, triggering rumours of a short circuit. Manish Mishra, who lives near the station, said he suddenly heard a loud thud when it was raining very heavily.
Outside, he saw “thousands cramped” on the six-to-eight- feet foot wide overbridge. Some were scrambling to get down the stairs, some climbing up to avoid being drenched, and still others just remaining under the bridge canopy to take shelter during the downpour. Officials said at least 22 people were killed and over 30 injured in the rush hour stampede on the overbridge linking Elphinstone Road and Parel suburban stations. “It was around 10 am. There was a loud noise at the time of the stampede. There were thousands of people cramped in the six-to-eight-feet gap on the bridge,” Mishra said. Several people waiting on the platform also got dragged into the chaotic crowd surge, he said. “We fetched cold water from our home, rushed to the spot and sprinkled it on some so that they gain consciousness,” he added. Police came later and shifted them from the spot, he said.
The decades-old overbridge is used by lakhs of people to reach the commercial area with high-end corporate and media offices. The presence of fish and flower market nearby also adds to the congestion, Mishra said. Kishor Thakkar, a regular commuter on the route, said there was a loud noise, which may have led the people to believe that a part of the bridge had fallen leading to the stampede. “People on the bridge were in a rush to get down, while those who had alighted from suburban trains were making their way up,” he said. Some who were rushing outside stopped midway to escape rains which led to the chaos, he said. Thakkar said he alerted the local police at 10:34 am, but by the time they arrived the bridge was empty. “It were people and not the police which rushed to help those caught in the stampede.” He blamed the railways for the tragedy.
“We had given a letter to the railway administration six months ago with a request to do something to improve the shoddy state of affairs here,” he claimed. Aaditya, a teenager who also lives in the same building as Mishra, and was also a witness to the tragedy, said, “At first, I thought it was usual crowd. Suddenly all hell broke loose.” However, the Western Railway has blamed unprecedented rain for the stampede. “It seems that due to rains with thunder, a stampede-like situation arose on the north side FOB, connecting Elphinstone Road and Parel stations,” it said in a statement.