New Delhi: On Thursday evening, a foot overbridge collapsed outside Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. At least six people were reportedly killed and more than 30 injured.
How did India’s big TV channels report the tragedy? Was it seen as an accident or governance failure? Given how close elections are, did any channels focus on whether this sort of incident might become a poll issue?
Aaj Tak’s coverage was the most probing. The channel showed Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis saying that the recent audit of all the foot overbridges had found this bridge to be safe, but later pointed out that the audit of 300 foot overbridges made no mention about this bridge at all.
The channel recalled, somewhat gratuitously, how this was the bridge that Ajmal Kasab had crossed during the 26/11 Mumbai attack and used the tag line “Maut bankar tootnay wala Kasab bridge (Kasab bridge breaks and claims lives)”.
The channel also focused on how the tragedy could have been bigger had there not been a traffic signal nearby. It said the light was red at the time of the tragedy and so only a few vehicles were passing under the bridge.
Aaj Tak also asked why the Maharashtra government and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) should not be held accountable, asking “if corruption was behind the collapse”. The NDA holds the reins of power there. The channel also noted that CST is a world heritage site, and so the bridge should have been better maintained.
In contrast to Aaj Tak’s coverage, Zee News’ show DNA, with anchor Sudhir Chaudhary, dwelt more on generalities than the specifics.
Reporters talked about the responsibility of ordinary citizens in times of tragedy.
The channel read out people’s messages about widespread corruption. Chaudhary spoke about how “cheap” an ordinary citizen’s life can be, and how ten foot bridges in Mumbai have been found to be in urgent need of repair.
He also dwelt on the system of “no objection certificates” and how people have resigned themselves to the rampant corruption around them – which endangers their life. While saying that the guilty should be charged with murder, he stayed away from any direct criticism of the state government.
NDTV India provided an eyewitness account of a woman, with an infant in her arms, who fell from the bridge. One person also talked about how the rubble fell on a taxi which was passing underneath.
The channel showed several local politicians commenting on the tragedy. AIMIM legislator Waris Pathan charged that the BMC has enough money to make monuments, but not to repair bridges. Another politician demanded that the engineer who inspected the bridge be booked and sent to prison.
Congress leader Milind Deora said ordinary citizens feel they are not safe in the city. He said mere words and promises will not do, and demanded that the structural auditors who gave clearance to the bridge be charged with murder.
The channel ran headlines saying “no lessons learnt”, “BMC overbridge falls” and “city’s busiest overbridge collapses”. It also noted that there was “politics over the tragedy”, with the Congress alleging “total negligence of agencies” and BJP and Shiv Sena leaders insisting that an enquiry has been ordered and that they would wait for its outcome.
India Today also spoke to author Shobhaa De, who talked about how crores were being spent on a coastal road that was being opposed by citizens and environmentalists, but basic upkeep of existing infrastructure was neglected. She said there was “monumental neglect of infrastructure on our streets”.
NDTV also asked probing questions, with one headline reading “bridge under repairs but public allowed to use it”. It talked about the audit which was undertaken on the bridge that was constructed in 1984.
The channel also highlighted the dispute on who maintained the bridge. It said while the Railways said the bridge came under the BMC, the Shiv Sena claimed it belonged to the Railways.
Times Now for once mirrored its sister channel, Mirror Now, as its anchor Padmaja Jha adopted an aggressive stance against the wrongdoers.
It also ran headlines like “Vote to punish this ‘Vikas’ sham”, “Vikas lies in a heap on the ground”, and “But netas won’t take responsibility”.
The programme also questioned the need for Fadnavis to attend a programme on Friday titled “Man Mile” in which the BJP and Shiv Sena will come together.
The channel also spoke to people who have suffered such public tragedies in the past. Among them was Neelam Krishnamoorthy of the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy, who said political parties are only interested in winning elections and not in the safety of the general public.
Republic TV ran the hashtag #MumbaiBridgeCollapse and various headlines like “They blame each other now” and “How many more tragedies”. It also stated that no lessons were learnt following the Elphinstone and Andheri bridge tragedies.
A key question which the channel raised was why the BMC could not replicate the work that was done by the army in building two foot bridges after the Elphinstone tragedy.
Republic TV’s stance on whether those in power should be held responsible was rather muted.