MUMBAI/PUNE: For the first time, Indian Army engineers will design and construct three foot overbridges at Mumbai railway stations.
Of three, one foot overbridge will be constructed at Elphinstone Road station, where the tragedy occurred on September 29, killing 23 people. The other bridges will be built on Currey Road and Ambivali stations of the Mumbai suburban railway.
Pune-based Bombay Engineer Group & Centre (BEG & C), Khadki, which is part of Army’s Corps of Engineers, will construct the bridges.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal conducted the inspection of Elphinstone Road station to take stock of the improvement work in progress post-stampede.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, senior officials of Indian Army and many BJP leaders of Mumbai were also present on the occasion.
Goyal said work on the bridges was expected to begin within 15 days. “Given the Army engineers’ expertise, they will construct the three foot overbridges by January 31. The Army has been very helpful to not just us but the society at large and I am very thankful to the defence minister and the railway minister for this huge help to bring ease in Mumbaikars’ life,” Fadnavis told the media.
“The Elphinstone Road bridge will be a new one, independent of the one being planned and constructed by the Railways. It will be located towards the Parel side at the northern end of the Elphinstone Road station,” said Mukul Jain, Divisional Railway Manager (Western Railway), Mumbai.
He said an Army team will identify the spot, submit its foot overbridge design and plans to the Railways before proceeding with the work. According to Jain, this is the first time such a civilian contract would be handled by the Indian Army, which is known to have vast engineering expertise.
BEG & C Commandant Brigadier Dhiraj Mohan, who briefed the defence minister about the plan, said, “There are two components, one is a military bridge and another is civil. There are many obstacles in constructing a FoB at Elphinstone station. First there are 11 tracks, seven of Central Railway and four of Western Railway. Moreover, the frequency of trains running through this station is huge. The only breathing period we will get is from 1 am to 3 am when the trains are not running. Therefore, we get only two hours a day to work on the construction of FoB. Moreover, the soil quality is very poor which will increase the time span more. It’s a challenge but not a big issue for us. We will construct a base on which the bridge will be constructed. Earlier, I had asked for 15 to 30 days, however looking at the time span we are getting to work, I’ll require three months to complete the project.”
DECISION SPARKS A CONTROVERSY
The move to involve the army for urban civilian works in peace-time attracted strong criticism from opposition leaders, including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam, former J&K CM Omar Abdullah and a passengers body.
“The army job is to train for war, not to be used for civilian works, Sitharamanji. Don’t divert defence resources to civilian jobs. You’re doing what General Kaul did with the 4th Division before 1962 war with China. It will set a very bad precedent. Pls avoid,” tweeted Singh. “The army was to be a measure of last resort to be called upon in extreme emergency. Now it seems like it’s the 1st number on the speed dial,” said Abdullah.
Nirupam tweeted: “Calling Army to make a bridge in Mumbai underlines the failure of corrupt Shiv Sena-BJP ruled BMC. Hope army will not be asked to fill potholes here.” NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said the Indian Army must be given such responsibilities “only in dire emergencies”.
Rail Yatri Sangh National President Subhash Gupta termed the decision as “a slap in the face of railway engineers”. “It’s the duty of the railway engineering departments and their engineers to construct bridges on an ongoing basis throughout the year. If the government feels that the army can do it faster, then the railways should start recruiting people from the armed forces,” Gupta said.