On March 14, a bridge in Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station collapsed killing six people and injuring 31. Located in South Mumbai, this overhead footbridge is used daily by hundreds of commuters, especially college students from St. Xavier’s College. Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis said despite a structural audit, the bridge was not flagged as weak or unsafe.
Among the six victims, two women and one man have been identified.
Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis expressed regret at the accident.
“This is a tragic incident. The government is taking this very seriously. We will conduct investigations and ensure that those responsible are severely punished”, he said last night.
Prime Minister Modi said his thoughts were with the victims’ families.
“Deeply anguished by the loss of lives due to the foot overbridge accident in Mumbai. My thoughts are with the bereaved families. Wishing that the injured recover at the earliest. The Maharashtra Government is providing all possible assistance to those affected”, PM Modi tweeted.
What we know so far
On Thursday evening, Mumbai Police said a bridge near the Times of India office had collapsed. This walkover bridge connected CST platform 1 at the north end with BT Lane.
After the collapse, amidst congested traffic, rescue operations were underway to find people trapped underneath the fallen debris.
Apoorva Prabhu, Ranjana Tambe, and Zahid Shiraj Khan were among those killed.
Friday morning, CM Fadnavis confirmed that 10 people are being treated for their injuries in St. George’s Hospital. Of them, one is currently in the ICU, but out of danger.
The police have created diversions for traffic after the collapsed bridge created a road block.
Commuters have been asked to use Mahapalika Marg from CST to Metro Junction and head towards Princess Street Flyover, Crawford Market, Chakala, and Mohammed Ali Road.
The CM has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh for the victims’ families and financial aid worth Rs 50,000 to the injured. He also said that the funds for any medical treatments for the injured will be provided by the government.
Fadnavis has said that despite passing a recent structural audit, the CST bridge collapsed.
A BMC official said that this colonial-era bridge was audited in 2016 and only due to receive minor repairs. However, those repairs were also not done because of delayed paperwork.
Speaking to reporters on Friday morning outside St. George’s Hospital, CM Fadnavis said that the BMC Commissioner has been asked to start an inquiry into the accident and fix the primary damages by the end of the day.
Fadnavis said that after an investigation into the CST bridge’s audit process is completed, the Mumbai Police will file an FIR against those responsible for the faulty audit.
Mumbai’s weak public infrastructure
The CST bridge collapse is the second infrastructural tragedy in Bombay’s public memory.
In 2017, 22 people were killed and 39 people were injured after being trapped in a massive stampede at Elphinstone Station
Due to heavy rains and impatient commuters, panic ensued as people were pushed and trampled over in an attempt to leave the station through a narrow staircase.
Railways Minister Piyush Goyal gave the victims’ families Rs 8 lakh as compensation. Like in the CST Bridge collapse, the government also took care of the medical expenses of those injured.
CNBC TV reports that after the Elphinstone tragedy, the state government allocated Rs 880 crore in its budget to build new bridges. However, the funding model for public infrastructure has some inherent issues that impede implementation.
Nonetheless, weak bridges and narrow staircases are not the only glaring issues in Mumbai’s infrastructure.
Every year, during the torrential monsoon, commuters and residents complain about the terrible condition of the city’s roads.
In 2018, Republican Party of India General Secretary Navin Ramchandra Lade led a citizen’s group to document the number of potholes in Mumbai. After gathering data and images, Lade created a website— mumbaipotholes.com—to store the information.
When the Mumbai Mirror first reported this story, the pothole tally stood at 26,934. Now, the website says that the city has 27,412 potholes.
The Asian Development Bank found that India needs an additional $112 billion a year to meet its infrastructure development targets.
However, most of funding for public infrastructure comes from the government as private sectors have not expressed interest in investing in the same. If the government were to fund that extra $112 billion, the country’s GDP would reduce by 4%.
“This means that India’s infrastructure spending gap is too large for the government to fill alone. But in the absence of a viable alternative to the PPP [public private partnership] model, private firms do not appear keen to invest in a sector which faces several uncertainties”, reports Livemint.
Livemint also found that in 2016-17, Maharashtra accounted for most of the country’s pending infrastructure projects. And the reasons range from land disputes to political deadlocks.
The Economic Times says that for India’s infrastructure to truly develop, it is not just enough that politicians claim it in their election manifestos. Instead, this is to be complemented by the government making deliberate efforts to render procedures related to construction projects more efficient.
This includes cutting down on red tape, establishing dispute resolution committees, and speeding up the process for approval of licenses and permits. In turn, this will attract private investors into the sphere of public infrastructure.
Sadly, in the upcoming general elections, infrastructure isn’t a hot ticket issue—Pakistan and security are, especially since the Pulwama and Balakot incidents. However, Indian politicians’ disbalanced domestic and international priorities may very well put off voters who find themselves suffering at the hands of failing infrastructure.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.