Mumbai, my city of birth, my city of work. The city around which my life revolves. But it is this very janmabhoomi
of millions of Indians which has been let down by our politicians.
22 lives have been lost at the Elphinstone Station stampede. Many others are critical. The Congress blames the ruling BJP and its Bullet Train dreams. The BJP asks what the Congress was doing for the past 60 years.
I am tired and done with the blame game. I am tired of the routine condolences and prayers offered to the family of the dead. I am sick of being reminded of the "spirit of Mumbai" and the greatness of "Maximum City". If at all an adage must be used, then surely it is this: the "City of Dreams has turned into a City of Nightmares."
But before I expand, a personal story. Every day for more than eight years, I religiously battled my way through Mumbai's local trains, travelling from one end of the city to another. Every day for seven of those years, I would disembark at the Elphinstone Station and walk down to my office. First, I had no other choice. As a student, this was the cheapest mode of transport. Then, when I became a journalist, my meagre Rs 10,000 salary couldn't afford the luxuries of commuting by road. But even years later, I still preferred travelling by local trains as the fastest mode of transport.
Around 2011, I moved to Delhi for a short stint. And that changed it all. When I returned to Mumbai, I said to myself: now no more. I am done commuting by the city's lifeline. I gave up even though I knew I had to shell out much more travelling by road. I gave up as I couldn't subject myself anymore to the bestiality of the experience.
For the uninitiated, this is what it really is like during peak hours. I would reach the Borivali station and wait for a train to arrive. As soon as it entered the platform, even though the train would be at a considerable speed, I would leap into it, hundreds of passengers behind me. One hand holding my bag, the other grasping a metal rod at the door. Given the speed, invariably, I would knock my shoulder to the rod and hurt myself. But that was of little concern. I had to get a seat. That was the only objective. Not just mine, but that of all co-passengers. The seat was crucial as otherwise you would be crushed by the weight of other commuters squeezing you from every side. Worse still, you could land up at the door and risk falling out onto the tracks.
When I gave up travelling like a beast, I was happy. I was just fortunate as I consciously decided to spend a large chunk of my salary on safer travel. I didn't want to travel like an animal. It was debasing and inhuman.
For years, there has been enough data doing the rounds that shows the gravity of the situation. Over 3,500 commuters are killed on Mumbai's tracks every year. Isn't the Railway Ministry aware of this?
Over 6 million commuters travel by the city's lifeline and that's way over capacity. Isn't the Railway Ministry aware of this?
Like the Elphinstone foot-over-bridge (FOB), there are many others which were built in the British Era and need urgent expansion or need to be rebuilt. Isn't the Railways Ministry aware of this?
And this was brought to light in parliament by Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant. In a letter dated February 20, 2016, then Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu wrote to Sawant, stating that in spite of the "paucity of finances", a new 12 metre-wide FOB was under "positive consideration". So what happened? Why wasn't it constructed?
The inquiry ordered by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal will hopefully bring the guilty to book.
But the way forward is what has been suggested by many earlier: bring the Mumbai suburban railway network under an independent authority.
The Railways is overburdened with enough work across the country. It doesn't need to look after and manage Mumbai where millions commute everyday.(Tejas Mehta is former Bureau Chief, NDTV 24x7 and is now a political commentator.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.