Business Standard

Road safety is of little concern in this election (Election Special)

IANS  |  New Delhi 

In a country that records the highest number of deaths from road accidents, road safety surprisingly figures nowhere on the agenda of political parties fighting this election.

Apart from the Congress, which has promised a "strong-willed political commitment" to reduce road fatalities by 50 percent in the next five years, no other major party has even touched on the issue. A BJP official however said that the party would deal with the problem if it came to power.

According to a recent World Health Organization report, India has the highest number of road deaths in the world - 105,725 in 400,000 accidents, followed by China (96,611), the US (42,642) and Russia (35,972).

A report by the road transport and highways ministry states that the highest accidents are recorded in the National Capital Region.

The two shocking accidents last week - involving the death of a 45-year-old cardiologist and his three-year-old daughter, crushed to death by a Haryana Roadways bus, as well as the death of three CRPF women troopers after their bus was hit by a speeding truck -- are reminders of how unsafe the roads are. While the driver in the first case was arrested after four days, in the second case the man responsible is still at large.

"The road fatalities do not affect the political class at all, which makes them least bothered about taking cognizance of the road accidents", Rohit Baluja, President of Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE), told IANS.

Agreed Prince Singhal, an activist who founded the NGO Campaign Against Drunken Driving (CADD). He said that "lack of political will and interest" is the reason why political parties, when they go on to form a government, are not serious about framing strict laws on road safety.

"Politicians are not bothered by the high rate of accidents because it does not affect them or their kin," he said.

Even though quite a few well known politicians have lost their lives in roads accidents in recent years (Rajesh Pilot of Congress and Sahib Singh Verma of the BJP to name just two), the fact that most of the accident victims aren't "vote banks" for the parties acts as a major hindrance.

"In a survey done by us, it was found that over 60 percent of the cyclists and pedestrians are migrants who move to metros in search of livelihood and have no voting rights there. Therefore, they are not important," Dhunu Roy, Director, Hazard Center, an NGO working for road accident victims.

"Moreover governments are always trying to frame policies that are aimed at removing the cyclists from roads while hardly any attempts are made to stop rash and negligent vehicle drivers," Roy told IANS.

Taking the point further, Rakesh Agarwal, Secretary of NGO Nyayabhoomi, working for the justice of road accident victims, said political parties have adopted the ideology of "no vote no significance."

"Political parties are only interested in commercial vehicles which have associations and wooing them translates into guaranteeing of thousands of votes... any policy against them can harm their prospects," he said.

"Therefore, drivers and owners of commercial vehicles do not have to face the music," Agarwal told IANS.

In addition to loss of lives, three percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is lost every year due to accidents, said Baluja.

"The government needs to realise that every year because of accidents we are losing three percent of our GDP," Baluja said, citing an IIT-Delhi survey.

"In 2007, for which the data is available, India lost over Rs.1 lakh crore ($25 billion) in road accidents and in the year 2000, it lost Rs.55,000 crore," he added.

However, the experts further said that the government alone could not be blamed as many other stakeholders are also involved. An active participation from civic bodies, in-charge of roads and lighting as well as educating the drivers are needed as well.

"Even if the political parties add the issue in their manifestos, it is not going to help because the role played by all the stake holders like MCD, NDMC and traffic police is important," said Singhal.

Furthermore, amendments to traffic laws, harsher penalties and, most importantly, awareness are the need of the hour, felt the experts.

"There have been no changes in traffic laws since 1988... an immediate increase in the amount of money imposed as fines is needed but sadly the government has hardly taken any interest till now," said Baluja.

The UPA government had tried to bring amendments in the Motor Vehicle Act with the intent to increase fine and penalty for traffic offences but the bill could not be passed in the Lok Sabha this year in February, though it was cleared by the Rajya Sabha in 2012.

Singhal said there is need for amendments in the laws of traffic for sure but the ministers concerned should have the intention and devotion to bring down the fatalities on road too.

First Published: Sun, April 27 2014. 15:22 IST