Satish Singh Manhas
Recently, a week ago a video went viral on social media in which a badly damaged Maruti vehicle alongwith dead body of a youth was being drawn out from river Chenab at Prem Nagar in erstwhile district Doda in which four young boys were crash drowned. The very next day another young boy lost his life on Bhaderwah-Chinta road. Hardly had peole come out of this trauma, when another tragedy struck near Doda in which three engineers and a driver lost their lives and again the reason was a road accident. More gruesome was the plunging of a Tata Sumo plying without a valid permit in Marwah area of district Kishtwar in which eight people including four women died on the spot. The UT in general and district Doda in particular suffered back to back 16/17 deaths in three days. A big shock and loss for the UT, families, friends, relatives in particular and the society as a whole in general. Initially and as a routine, many reasons were cited by individuals, agencies et al like rash driving, bad road conditions, lack of parapets, barricades, unmaintained machinery, lack of driving expertise etc but what actually was the reason can be anybody’s guess! Hardly, any day passes when we don’t see any death on this stretch of Jammu Paddar road popularly known as Jammu-Kishtwar national highway.
Although accidents as a routine are not a new occurrence in our country as on a national level, we lose around 1.5 lakh of lives, highest in the world, especially youth, teenagers etc every year to accidents. This is a big number but a fact and in Jammu and Kashmir especially district Doda has a good number in the national register. By addressing all these issues, many precious lives can be saved. But all this requires a multifarious approach from the Government, individuals, families and the society as a whole. But as an immediate remedial measure, the Government can initiate preventive measures like erecting barricades, parapets, steel frames etc. It can establish driving schools and without training and supervision for at least six months none should be allowed to drive especially on this dangerous stretch of Jammu- Kishtwar-Marwah-Paddar national highway. Being a hilly road need high parapets, strong steel/iron barricades is a must but alas! none exists. This needs a serious thought as well as a concrete action without any delay before more precious lives are wasted to these cruel accidents.
Moreover, the ARTOs in this erstwhile district Doda including Ramban, Kishtwar etc can be directed not to issue any driving licence if the driver has not training from a Government recognised driving school and a six months driving practice under an expert supervision.
The sole responsibility of the Government is to install proper parapeting, erecting the barricades which can prevent the accidents to some extent and can minimise the losses. Such losses be that of men or machinery has a great bearing on our national GDP which many from amongst us may not be knowing but accidents in addition to taking away our precious lives causes a 3.2 percent loss to our GDP as well. Vehicles costing lakhs are reduced to rubbles in seconds, insurance companies required to compensate for the loss of men and machinery, Government has to compensate in many cases, families running from pillar to post spending lakhs in settling claims etc causing huge financial, moral and social damages. Accidents have such an overall cruel effect. This may sound philosophical to a few but it is a fact. So an approach at all levels is required so that the losses are minimised. At the individual and family level, the parents must ensure if their wards are properly trained only then they must be allowed to drive a vehicle. Another remedial aspect is wearing a seat belt front or rear as it has a bearing on saving lives in hilly areas. Fingers crossed. But having airbags in cars, front as well as rear etc can definitely help save precious lives. We all know that companies that export cars are fitted with six airbags but for local and domestic supply they compromise and fit with a lesser number of airbags which is a serious concern and needs strict action from the Government. No company must be allowed to compromise lives for money and that too meagre as the air bags do not cost more than rupees 900 and when fitted in more numbers, this cost is even lessened. But a change of mind set, policy and sympathy towards their fellow citizens is the need of the hour from the manufacturing companies. Cooperation from people, media, governments, individual families and immediate measures, midterm and long term, are required so that we may see a reduction in deaths by 50 percent till 2024 as the Government also foresees. But the most crucial question, is, are we moving in that direction? Now time has come where showing sympathy won’t do, synergy may help rescue us all. Another area which needs a consideration is the companies executing expansion work are required to be directed strictly to allow a safe alternate passage for commuters as in many stretches the mud and sliding zones are not properly taken care of leading to accidents. Now the time has come which requires no condolences, no compensation, only care, caution, precaution and only timely action can help prevent such tragedies.
Optional for you please
Now last but not the least a time tested fact about the hilly areas which everybody may corroborate who had the experience of travelling on Doda-Kishtwar road during the eighties, nineties and are even continuing today. They all may recall that (Malhori Passi) Malhori landslide was a headache for the Governments, the commuters, the pliers and everybody during the eighties, nineties and even till mid 2000 as this 300 meters long portion of the road used to slide down for all 12 months unstoppable be any season rain, snow or even sun rise and clear weather for days and even months together. The landslides used to be a permanent headache and a 24*7 bulldozer used to be on an alert. But once a temple was constructed way back thereafter no land slide was witnessed and everybody heaved a sigh of relief. So there might have been some curse from some devi devta or some sin committed in the past which annoyed our devi devtas and we are paying for that. Many may not agree. But that is their choice. So if any such initiative can be made collectively by the public apologising to their respective gods, deities, devi devtas, I hope some blessings may be showered and our future generations may be saved from the cruel jaw of death. Since “society is supreme” is a universal fact, let’s all think about how to get rid of this curse. Collectively we all can have some effective remedy.
Satish Singh Manhas