MUMBAI: Passenger safety will be top priority, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal declared on Saturday as he announced a series of measures a day after 23 people were killed in a stampede at a crowded station in Mumbai. After chairing a high-level nine-hour-long meeting, the minister said that he had empowered officials "to spend whatever is necessary on safety". Mr Goyal, who took charge of the Railways ministry last month as the government faced fire following a series of accidents, said, "It is not an excuse but problems in Indian Railways aren't one or two years old. They... were given to us in 2014 as inheritance."
- "Every commuter of Mumbai Suburban is as important as a Rajdhani passenger and should be treated like one," Mr Goyal told officials at Saturday's meeting that tweaked procedures to cut delays in execution of plans.
- Among the key decisions taken was to term Foot Overbridges (FOBs) among others as 'Safety Items' having highest priority with no budgetary restrictions. Previously, only the first FOB at a railway station was considered essential while the subsequent ones were treated as low priority. "We are turning a 150 year old convention on its head, hereafter, FOBs (Foot Over Bridges) will be deemed mandatory not a passenger amenity," the minister tweeted.
- Friday's tragedy unfolded during morning rush hour at a narrow foot overbridge connecting the busy Elphinstone Road and Parel train stations in Mumbai. A large crowd poured into the bridge - already bursting with people taking shelter from a sudden, heavy downpour - when four trains rolled in at the same time, according to eyewitnesses.
- "Additional escalators sanctioned at crowded Mumbai suburban stations with high commuter rush with details to be finalized within 15 days and thereafter for all high traffic stations," the Railway Minister added.
- While 200 officers will be relocated from the Railways headquarters as field to strengthen ground operations and project implementation, 75 bright and dynamic Station Directors shall be posted at key stations all over the country to bring vibrancy to the operations, he said.
- Within 15 months, work on installing CCTV cameras in all suburban trains in Mumbai with a monitoring mechanism will be taken up and parallel work will be initiated across India, the minister said.
- On Saturday, Mr Goyal gave officials a week's time to resolve any pending issues with other government agencies that have stalled projects and escalate problems that they aren't able to resolve, adding that projects could not be kept perpetually hanging due to differences between government departments.
- The government, following the stampede, has come under intense attack from the Opposition as well as its ally, the Shiv Sena, for going ahead with the Rs. 1 lakh crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. "Bullet train will be like demonetisation. It will kill everything else including safety," former Finance Minister P Chidambaram had tweeted.
- Friday's stampede has raised new safety questions about one of the world's biggest rail networks, which is struggling to upgrade infrastructure and safety after a series of deadly crashes in recent years.
- Nearly $8 billion has been promised by the government to upgrade the suburban trains in Mumbai that are a lifeline for the city's 20 million people. Some 7.5 million passengers commute in nearly 2,500 trains daily but hundreds die every year due to losing their grip on the doors, falling while trying to get into packed compartments and hitting electric poles outside.
(With inputs from Agencies)