Art of Dying Pollution potholes and negligent driving

Sunny Dua
Even when State Government has released Rs 8 crore under road safety fund to end traffic accidents and ensure effective traffic management, killer roads of Jammu and Kashmir continue to take toll on innocent lives. It was only some days ago that three children among seven persons died when the car carrying 10 persons rolled down a gorge in Reasi. Onlybe a a fortnight ago 11 people onboard a Superfast bus were killed in Poonch area of Jammu. Negligent driving are stated to be prime reasons for these accidents but how this negligence be allowed to kill people for no fault of theirs is a question that needs answers. The year 2018 had witnessed worst road accidents not only on highways but well within city limits leaving indelible scars on the families of those who have lost their dear ones in fatal road accidents.
While negligent driving that includes driving on wrong sides, driving without helmet, rash driving, drinking and driving besides not following road rules have become prime reasons of deaths on roads, air pollution and potholes – are being cited as two added reasons of deaths in India which are going unnoticed and unplugged. While former reasons attribute to human negligence later ones are man-made and very much within permissible manageable limits. Still, no one is bothered. If these unnatural deaths rather ‘killings’ are not enough to wake us up then what will remain is a big question to be answered rather explored.
While around 12.4 lakh deaths in India in 2017 have been attributable to air pollution alone about, 14,926 people have been killed on roads due to potholes in last five years which even the Supreme Court has termed as “unacceptable”. Coming to our own state, just within last two days a bus that has ‘SUPERFAST’ written on its rear plunged into a deep gorge killing 11 people onboard and leaving many injured in Poonch area of Jammu. Similarly in Kashmir’s Baramulla district a newly wedded couple was hit and killed by a vehicle. The couple was on a motorcycle and died on the spot after getting hit.
These incidents might be newspaper reports for many but for those who lose dear ones their whole ‘world’ gets shattered. Pathetically, we are not sensitive enough to understand how much painful is it to lose a dear one for someone else’s faults of rash or negligent driving. While engineers are to be blamed for not designing and constructing safe roads, traffic authorities are to be blamed for not making people follow rules and transport authorities are equally to be blamed for allowing unfit passengers vehicles to stay on roads even when they are not safe in terms of machinery or interiors built of steel and other unsafe materials.
While data of deaths on roads have exceeded deaths of soldiers killed in conflict zones the number of those killed in city areas is more than those killed on highways. This states that while highways have become safe, city roads have become death traps because of pots, dilapidated conditions and rash and negligent driving. Death of Muzaffar Ahmad Khan and his wife in Pattan who were riding a motorcycle when they were hit by a car at Tapper area is an example and a similar shocking data about road accidents gets reported in Jammu almost every day where several precious lives are lost on roads.
Deaths due to Air Pollution
A study, published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal says that more people are dying of air pollution in India than because of tobacco use. Fine dust particles of the size 2.5 Particulate Matter (PM) goes into lungs and cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems besides irritating eyes, throats and skin. Lead, Platinum-group elements, aluminum, zinc and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found out to be key components of ‘road dust’ that damage outdoor air quality levels above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) safe limit.
In Jammu work on flyover that’s part of Jammu-Akhnoor road widening is generating enormous ‘Road Dust’ which is affecting health of those living in the vicinity of construction site and also those working on the project. Those into project constructions like National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) need to use sprinklers so that dust is settled every time excavation or other dust generating works are carried out. The move will not only help those living or working in the vicinity of project but lives of construction workers will also be saved rather enhanced by few years.
The Lancet report has also suggested that average life expectancy could have been 1.7 years higher had pollution levels been less than the minimal level causing health loss in India. Being a developing nation and especially Jammu and Kashmir which is yet to witness mega projects like construction of circular road, flyovers, road widening projects at Janipur and New Plot, barrages, housing colonies and river view fronts has either to be prepared for damages or find remedial measures to cut air pollution in coming days before this development costs us our lives.
Another prime reason for air pollution in our state are stone crushers, generator sets, diesel vehicles, saw mills, paint works of vehicles and buildings that’s done without any safety measure, use of fossil fuel in areas where intense cold conditions prevail, emission from unchecked industries and chemicals used in farming. Each and every constituent goes unchecked causing breathing problems in Jammu as well as Srinagar. There are also reports of premature deaths due to rising levels of pollution in air and its high time Pollution Control Board besides other allied agencies crack their whip on and act tough against violators.
Deaths due to Potholes
The Supreme Court of India (SC) while hearing an issue related to road safety across the country observed that probably more people are killed on roads than on borders and described the scenario – deaths due to potholes are ‘unacceptable’. The data might have shocked the apex court but not moved engineers in Jammu and Kashmir State. A pothole that once was created due to sinking of road or other reason on any stretch in Jammu or Srinagar continues to stay there for several years till work is again taken up (This happens once in a year).
Those in doubt can visit Ware House in Jammu and several other roads that cite best examples of “roads in between potholes” and not “potholes in between roads”. Death of 14,926 people in road accidents just because of potholes in last five years in India as expressed by apex court are not only “unacceptable” but “shocking” as well. Not even once the cause of accident is investigated so that remedial measures are taken up to save lives.
Shockingly multiple accidents at same site never shake anyone. About half a dozen pots in Kachi Chawni where children drive two wheelers and millions in Ware House, Narwal besides those in posh localities not only compromise on safely but also pose a threat to people’s lives. Unfortunately certain localities have become no-man’s land where Jammu Municipal Corporation, JDA, ERA, PWD and Housing Board all carry out works according to their conveniences and availability of funds but no one owns the roads in letter and spirit so that maintenance work in carried out regularly.
A bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur was of the opinion, “probably more than those killed on border or by the terrorists”. The bench, also comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta has categorically said that authorities concerned were not maintaining the roads. The report on road safety was submitted by the Supreme Court Committee headed by former apex court judge K S Radhakrishnan.
The only silver lining visible is that since the bench had said that people who have lost their lives as a result of accidents due to potholes should be entitled to compensation, people now can sue agencies responsible for keeping potholes intact on roads. Anyone dying due to faulty road will be liable for compensation depending upon his or her stature. To shame Governments people in many cities have started planting saplings in potholes on roads and before such a trend catches up with people of Jammu it’s advisable if agencies carry out safety audit of all roads and fill up potholes immediately.
Deaths due to negligence
When we talk of deaths due to negligence, it’s both on the part of road users as well as agencies. Most of the commuters and drivers in Jammu take wrong sides to reach their destinations from City Chowk to Raghunath Bazar, Flyover to Bus stand near MLA hostel, from Gandhi Nagar to police lines outside Hotel Asia and likewise several other places in the city crucial being one from Super Specialty Hospital to Jewel Chowk. Such shortcuts not only risk lives of drivers but also of those coming from other ends.
Crossings like those at Bikram Chowk, Maheshpura Chowk, outside Police Headqurters, Gandhi Nagar, Gandhi Nagar near Hospital, one connecting Trikuta Nagar and Channi Himmat near Canal head are most violated areas where drivers hardly stop on traffic signals. Such negligent moves become fatal as well. In absence of zebra crossings at several points especially outside schools and where students’ tuition hubs are located lives of many have been compromised with.
Still worst are trollies that are towed by tractors which actually are meant for agriculture purposes. Most of these tractor trollies are used by miners. After loading them with sand, stones or crushed stones the same are kept in waiting on highways at Manda, Ram Nagar, Sidhra Chowk or even at Narwal besides on road leading to water works department at Panjtirthi. After dusk, these trollies are then ferried into city streets posing great risk to two-wheelers who can’t see trollies towed by tractors.
Despite court orders and orders of traffic authorities, neither the mining has stopped nor brazen misuse of tractor trollies. This is sheer negligence that needs to be tamed. Another worst example of negligence is road crossing by pedestrians who occupy carriage way and leave no space for vehicular traffic.
Both Jammu as well as Srinagar cities don’t have required footpaths, sub-ways, zebra crossings and adequate parking spaces that create a virtual mess. While Municipal Corporations of both cities have spent lakhs of rupees on building new, exclusive ad ornamental bus stops the minibuses don’t actually stop at designated sites. This also creates a mess thereby leaving no space for others to drive safely. Children especially students don’t wear helmets which should be more of a responsibility than obeying law.
In nutshell it’s being civilized than being arrogant. Sooner we learn to be safe on roads and give people safe roads better it would be for us all. And as a tribute to lives lost on city roads of Jammu and Kashmir and apathy of those who are waiting for more blood to be spilled on roads before they actually build safe roads here I quote Faiz Ahmad Faiz, “tujh ko kitnoñ ka lahu chahiye ai arz-e-vatan, jo tire ariz-e-be-rañg ko gulnar kareñ, kitni aahoñ se kaleja tira ThanDa hoga, kitne aañsu tire sahraoñ ko gulzar kareñ (How many sighs will soothe your heart, How many tears will cause your deserts to bloom?).