Whoever got the news of nine innocent children got killed on road in Muzaffarpur was shocked. A speeding car went out of control and mowed down school children, killing nine of them and leaving as many as 25 injured in the accident; they are still traumatised. All children were going homes after attending school. They were crossing the State Highway 77 when suddenly a Balero coming in high speed ran over the children killing nine of them on the spot.
The accident shows once again that pedestrians are not safe on road. They are victims of speeding and uncontrolled vehicles that ply on road without any care for those walking on foot. In cities, pedestrians are not allowed to cross roads when the light is green for them as people driving car, bus or carriage often jump the red light signals at the crossings. The killer drivers are blind to ‘Zebra Crossing’.
At least some 1.5 lakh people die every year in road accident. Of this 20 per cent who die are pedestrians. Approximately the same number of people riding cycle is killed on road. The number of those injured is many times more than those killed.
Go to any village, you will find many families who lost their kin in road accident. You will find many homes with physically challenged people; all victims of road accident.
I myself faced dangerous situation while going on foot or peddling cycles during my young age as a reporter of newspaper to gather news and report. I used to move on cycle some 50 kilometers a day on an average as young reporter. But in those days there were fewer vehicles on road and in towns there used to be footpath for pedestrians. Footpaths are still there but it is occupied by encroachers (hawker). There is no space for pedestrians to move.
No thought for the Hapless
Now come to widening and beautification of roads. Nobody gives a thought to the hapless pedestrians. One reason could be that the pedestrians are the last link of the society. They are poor. Their financial and social standing is weak and poor. Does that mean that they will continue to die on the road? Does it give license to the rich and the affluent to mow down the pedestrians by their cars? The rising incidents of road mishaps are directly linked to increasing number of vehicles on the road.
One can’t reduce the number of cars on roads. But the government can and should think of safety for pedestrians by restoring footpaths and by constructing foot over bridge or underpass near crowded places like schools, temples, mosques and churches. Traffic police can be deployed at the time of schools closing for the day when children come out in large number on road.
How to Cross Highway
The Muzaffarpur accident has once again proved that highways passing through densely populated states like, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar have become high risk and dangerous zones. Besides road accidents there are incidents of murder, robbery and rape on highways. Often bodies are thrown on road after the murder to make it look like a road accident. Sometime back, criminals kept as hostage of a family going from NOIDA to Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh on Highway no. 91. The criminal gang raped the women members of the family.
On Delhi-Agra Express Highway, it is a common site to see dead bodies lying on the road. On Delhi- Haryana stretch of National Highway 1, bodies are thrown on road near Sonipat and Panipat.
Given the fact that the network of National Highway runs to one lakh kilometer, it is impossible to put Police on duty to guard the long stretches of highways. But it is always feasible to deploy patrol police cars on highways at night. With more and more National Highways becoming Express Highways, over speeding is common. The high end cars are driven at high speed exceeding the speed limit prescribed for highways.
There is need to install CCTV cameras to monitor over speeding of vehicles. The Police should apprehend the violators of speed limit; their driving license should be impounded and hefty fines should be imposed on law breakers.
According to a latest report of Road Transport Ministry, in 2013 some 39,828 people were killed in road accident. The figure went up to 40,049 in 2014. In the meantime, the Ministry has marked ten stretches as “black spots” on highways that are prone to accidents. Stretches where ten or more accidents take place have been marked. There are 726 such black spots on highways of which 100 are in Tamil Nadu followed by 99 in Uttar Pradesh and 86 in Karnataka. The Ministry has sanctioned over Rupees 11 thousand crores to minimize the risk of accidents along the black spots.
The Ministry of Road Transport has also decided to place rescue vans and ambulance service on highways. There are new deployments of security staff at the tolls to assist people travelling by road.
R K Sinha
(The writer is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha)