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MUMBAI: The Union and state governments said on Tuesday the Army will build foot overbridges at three stations on Mumbai’s suburban network, including Elphinstone Road, sparking a political row and leaving everyone from the defence establishment to the railways unhappy about involving the forces in a civilian project.
On Tuesday morning, railway minister Piyush Goyal, along with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, visited Elphinstone Road station, where 23 people had died in a stampede on a narrow staircase on September 29.
CM Fadnavis said work on all three bridges will be completed by January 2018. Justifying the army’s involvement, Sitharaman said, “We had to ask the Army to undertake civilian work because the Elphinstone Road tragedy was big.”
Goyal said, “We are thankful to the army for help…”
This will probably be the first time that the Army will help construct bridges for the railways. It is the reverse of an instance from J&K during the late 1990s when the Army had to call railway engineers to construct a bridge. While rail officers called the government’s move demoralising, Army officers decried yet another instance of “political misuse” of the country’s defence forces. The opposition at the Centre called the termed the move deplorable and saw it as an admission of the failure of the government and the railways.
The three foot over-bridges are to be constructed at the Elphinstone Road-Parel, Currey Road and Ambivli stations.
The Elphinstone Road-Parel combine has a footfall of 3-3.5 lakh passengers.
Western Railway’s divisional railway manager Mukul Jain said, “The existing Parel FOB on the north-end of the platform will be extended towards Elphinstone Road.”
A source said the Army will seek a number of blocks, during which services will be temporary suspended, “so that work can be finished in record time”. During the blocks, late night and early morning long distance and suburban train services may be affected. Jain said, “The designs of the bridges are yet to be finalised and we are yet to be told about the number of blocks the engineers require.”