MUMBAI:A month after 23 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge at Mumbai’s Elphinstone Road train station, the government has turned to the army for a new bridge. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced today that the army will build a bridge at the site by January 31, provoking massive criticism. Will army fill up potholes next, derided the opposition Congress.
Visiting the Elphinstone Road Station with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, Mr Fadnavis said: “The army said they can build a bridge in a short span…We are taking the Army’s help in building a new foot overbridge at the Elphinstone Road station and at two other suburban train stations in Mumbai.”
The army “has its role at the borders” but it was roped in because of the urgency, explained Nirmala Sitharaman.
“I wanted to know the army’s view. We know that the army rushes to places where there are natural disasters…This is probably for the first time the Army was asked to come in to build what could otherwise be called civil work, but the Elphinstone tragedy was so big,” the Defence Minister said, adding that the army was “happy to help” and contribute to nation-building.
Railways Minister Piyush Goyal followed up on her comments with a thanksgiving tweet: “#MumbaiThanksArmy for coming to the aid of the Nation. Grateful to RM @nsitharaman for immediately responding to our call for help.”
In 2010, when Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games, the army stepped in and rebuilt in record time a bridge that had suddenly crashed near a key stadium. But the move to commission soldiers for the construction of a bridge that was long overdue has been described by many as a “bad precedent”. Among critics of the move is Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, a former army officer.
This is not the first time that the army has been pressed into civilian work not necessarily requiring its skills and training.
Last year, the Army built a floating bridge on the river Yamuna for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s “Art of Living” event that was controversial because of environmental violations.
This year, soldiers were called in to keep an eye on those throwing waste into the river Ganga and to clean up tourist garbage in high altitude areas.
Many also argue that Mumbai desperately needs new and safer bridges.
On September 29, the deadly stampede broke out when an unusually large crowd tried to cross the old, narrow bridge connecting two of the busiest stations in Mumbai – the Elphinstone Road and Parel stations.