Railways defends move to ask army for bridge construction

RSTV Bureau
FILE: Commuters at the Elphinstone Railway Station's foot over bridge, where a stampede took place recently, in Mumbai, Sept 29, 2017.  Photo - PTI

FILE: Commuters at the Elphinstone Railway Station’s foot over bridge, where a stampede took place recently, in Mumbai, Sept 29, 2017.
Photo – PTI

Facing severe criticism over its decision to take Army’s help to build the over-bridges in Mumbai in the wake of Elphinstone Road station tragedy, the railways defended its move saying Army has the expertise and reputation in building roads and bridges in unfavourable situations.

On Tuesday, the government asked Army to build over-bridges in Mumbai, including the Elphinstone Road station over-bridge, where a stampede claimed 23 lives last month.

“Not only the Indian Army, but armies across the globe, whenever a country faces a severe crisis, they come forward to help the people,” chief spokesperson of Western Railway (WR) Ravinder Bhakar said.

“We have many cases wherein the Army was roped in to rescue the needy people during crises, such as very recently Savitri river bridge in Raigad district was swept away and the Army joined the rescue missions,” he added.

Army had been involved in several high-risk rescue operations in the past, including 2014 floods in Jammu and Kashmir, 2013 Uttarakhand tragedy, 2004 Tsunami tragedy to name few.

Even during the period of Commonwealth Games in 2010, the Army stepped in and rebuilt a bridge in record time, when the bridge had suddenly crashed near Nehru Stadium.

Addressing a joint press conference, Central Railway (CR) chief spokesperson Sunil Udasi added Military Engineering Services (MES) have expertise to build bridges in the shortest possible time in times of crisis Armed forces has been at the service at the time of any crisis.

“We should not confine the role of our armed forces merely to keeping a vigil on the highest battle ground of the world Siachen or fighting cross-border terrorism. Our armed forces have always been at the service of the needy people during crisis situations every point of time,” he said.

While making the announcement, Union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said it was probably the “first time that the Army will come in to build in what could otherwise be called civil work” to avoid recurrence of the unfortunate accident in the city, which gives jobs to millions. But Elphinstone station tragedy was “so big”, she said.

Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis said the Army would also help in building foot over-bridges at two other stations here.

Meanwhile, opposition parties had criticised the move to rope in the Army.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said it seems like the Army is the “1st number on the speed dial” while Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, a former army captain, said the Centre’s decision was “unprecedented and deplorable.”

Singh, who has served the Army as a Captain before joining politics, said the Army’s job is to train for war and protect the country’s borders, not to build bridges and clean the roads.

“Whatever the urgency of the situation, it does not merit such a decision, which would have adverse long-term implications as it could encourage the civilian authorities to seek Army help for major civilian works every time they find themselves ill-equipped to handle an infrastructural or other challenge,” he said in a statement in Chandigarh.

(With inputs from PTI)