Road accident data from Punjab is grim: Expert calls govt out for lack of action
Punjab's citizens have been dying by the thousands each year on roads in the state. The numbers are alarming: in what is being called 'road terror', over 40,000 lives have been lost in Punjab over the past decade.
The figure outnumbers the number of casualties during the years of militancy in the state by a large margin. To make matters worse, the government's "take it easy" attitude is only resulting in a more blood being spilt on the roads.
Dr Kamal Soi, an international road safety expert who is a member of the National Road Safety Council under the union ministry of road transport and highways, shared the National Crime Records Bureau data for 2015: Punjab recorded 6,702 road accidents which left 4,414 people injured and killed 4,893.
According to him, Ludhiana tops Indian cities for maximum casualties in road accidents in a single year: 384 deaths.
The blame for this, he says, can be laid at the feet of the lackadaisical attitude of the government. He accuses the state government of failing to implement the Supreme Court directives on installing speed governors in commercial vehicles.
“There are 3,500-5,000 buses running on the roads of the state daily. They are a part of the around five lakh commercial vehicles in Punjab. Research has shown that commercial vehicles account for 40% to 50% of the fatalities,” he says.
Failure to implement SC directives
Soi claims that the installation of Speed Limitation Devices (SLDs) become all the more important in the face of the fact that 70% of the drivers of commercial vehicles have not studied beyond Class 8. He says that while the new commercial vehicles are coming with SLDs installed, it is the installation in the old ones that are running on the roads that pose a big challenge. He says that Punjab is one of the states that has issued a notification on this, but has failed to implement the Supreme Court directives.
“It is among the states that gave an affidavit before the SC on the implementation of the directives on SLDs. Though I've taken the matter up to the chief secretary and the transport secretary, the file remains stuck. I think the reason behind this could be that the major chunk of the transport business is dominated by the high and mighty,” he said.
Soi has questioned the issuing of fitness certificates to the commercial vehicles without the mandatory installation of the SLDs.
“Is the bureaucracy so strong that it does not bother even about the chief minister who holds the transport folio? Don't you care for human lives or for that matter the orders of the Supreme Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court?” he asked.
The SLDs do not allow the vehicles to go beyond the speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour. Soi points out that those in transport business compel their drivers to go for rash driving asking them to reach their destinations in a stipulated time.
“We have seen drivers being told to touch Amritsar from Delhi in six hours as they carry perishable items. For economic reasons alone, transporters are not keen to get SLDs installed. Buses which make four trips between two destinations daily would have these trips reduced to three if SLDs are installed. This means a decrease in income,” he said, underlining that SLDs can reduce deaths on roads by 25%.
He claims that states like Karnataka, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Assam and Kerala have already started installing SLDs in commercial vehicles. He said, “Karnataka has recorded a 10% decline.”
During the run up to the recent assembly poll campaign, Soi recalls, Amarinder had expressed concern at the road fatalities and had promised to take steps to check it. He also points to the insensitive statements of the former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Badal on the issue.
Local papers have quoted top officials in the state government saying that the field officials concerned have been told to implement the Supreme Court order. The instructions have also been issued twice to the Regional Transport Authorities and District Transport Officers.
Within a week of having taken over as the Chief Minister, Amarinder had ordered a crackdown on speeding vehicles violating traffic norms. He had also asked the transport department to examine the feasibility of installing speed governors in public transport, especially buses and trucks, that were found to be the main culprits in majority of the road accidents in Punjab.
Among other measures, he had directed the traffic police to check over-speeding and overcrowding, as well as plying of vehicles converted into public transport through unauthorised modification.
Instructions wre also issued to the Public Works Department (PWD) to ensure that precisely engineered and properly marked speed breakers are in place on all state highways and roads, including link roads, along with other necessary measures to minimise accidents.
The state government had also announced setting up a road safety authority to study the causes of frequent accidents on the state’s roads.
Soi has threatened to file a contempt of court petition against the state government if it does not take required action in the matter over the next fortnight.
Pointing to the callous attitude of the state government, he said, “There are around 350 black spots identified by the government. These include the spot where former finance minister Captain Kanwaljit Singh was killed in an accident. But nothing has been done to rectify them. There are roads with no markings or directions which make commuting very dangerous.”