Punjab Today Editorial
From June 12-18, 2010 edition
It is staple news now; it appears everyday, and it reads the same. Just the names are different, and the name of the town or road is different. After all, how many times one would like to read the bland “Bus rams into car,” “Truck runs over three pedestrians” or “four dead, three injured in mishap?”
No more do the newspapers put a road accident story on the front page, unless they decide that the number of dead is respectable enough to merit a 60-point headline, and readers spend even less time on reading the details.
At times, the reality of killer roads jolts the collective public conscience, as it happened when we lost one of our more promising ministers last year. Not long before that tragedy, Punjab Vidhan Sabha was solemnly told that nine people die every single day in the state in road accidents. It did not make for much of a headline.
Around 320 die on India’s roads every day. That makes it over 13 deaths every hour. Each year, accident figures are crossing one lakh in India. Compare the media coverage and public outcry over road accidents with coverage of terrorism in Kashmir or the Mumbai attacks.
Since Indian highways are expanding and getting ever wider, and massive money is being pumped into Kamal Nath’s ministry, experts are warning of a four fold increase in road fatalities.
As for the sociology of accidents, it also works against the poor. Roads and accidents happen to poor and rich, both, but somehow the ground rules of accidents are not very democratic. The number of urban and rural poor dying in road accidents is surprisingly high.
Empirical data suggests that most deaths involve vulnerable road users like pedestrians, bicyclists and motorised two wheeler riders. True, everyone walks and even the rich get run over by a car, but data from Institute for Road Traffic Education (IRTE), Union Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways, and Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) at IIT-Delhi suggests that death comes easily to the poor, the vulnerable.
Some of life’s realities do not change even in a road accident.
In Punjab, maximum road deaths are reported from patches that cut through villages. Our politicians are so keen to turn Punjab into another California but it will help if they simply paid more attention to what they consider mundane.
You know how little it takes at times to save lives? Simply telling people to keep their two-wheelers’ headlights on during the day can bring down death rates by 15 per cent! Many countries have this law on their statute books; what’s stopping us? Chandigarh police has done a remarkable job in enforcing many traffic rules; what have we learnt from that experience?
The toori-laden ubiquitous tractor-trolley cannot be allowed to continue as a road trundling monster of death in these foggy days, and private bus operators cannot keep running riot trying to outdo each other to pick up passengers.
At least not if we want all our children to return home every single day from school, to reach the other side of the road, and to run an errand on a bicycle without meeting death on the way.
And if road accidents are a matter of life and death for each of us, surely those who claim to administer our affairs for us in our name and with our money must be doing a tough job. But when was the last time you heard any political party making high road deaths an election issue?