(MENAFN - Gulf Times) The Maharashtra government yesterday said the Indian Army would build three foot bridges including one at Elphinstone railway station in Mumbai where a stampede killed 23 people in September, sparking a political slugfest over using soldiers in civil works.
The foot bridges will be built on Elphinstone Road of Western Railway, and Currey Road and Ambivali stations of the Central Railway on the congested Mumbai suburban network.
'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 Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal for this huge help to bring ease in Mumbaikars' life, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told reporters.
Sitharaman said: 'The Indian Army has always been steadfast in the provision of aid for disaster relief issues. This is the first time when we are actually asking the army to help us in what essentially could be called civil work in the financial capital city of the country.
Goyal said work on the bridges was expected to begin within 15 days, and in a tweet later, said it would be completed by January 31 next year.
Western Railway divisional railway manager Mukul Jain said the Elphinstone Road bridge will be a new one, independent of the one being planned and constructed by the railways, and be located towards the Parel side at the northern end of the station.
He said an army team will identify the spot, submit its 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 army.
The development came a little over a month after 23 commuters were killed in a stampede on a narrow bridge connecting WR's Elphinstone Road with Parel on Central Railway on September 29.
Sitharaman, Goyal, Fadnavis and other officials earlier yesterday surveyed the Elphinstone Road station to take stock of the improvement works in progress after the stampede.
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 Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah and a passengers body.
'The army's 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, a former army captain himself.
'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 failure of corrupt Shiv Sena-BJP ruled BMC. Hope army will not be asked to fill potholes here.
Rail Yatri Sangh leader Subhash Gupta termed the decision as 'a slap in the face of railway engineers and one which raised 'serious question marks over the capabilities of the massive engineering department.
'It's the duty of the railway engineering departments and their engineers to construct bridges on an on-going 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, he said.
The proposal had been first mooted by Mumbai Bharatiya Janata Party president Ashish Shelar.
Earlier, the army helped construct a foot bridge during the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games when an under-construction bridge outside Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the main venue for the event, collapsed days before the games were to start. The new bridge was built within five days.