Jammu’s fatal road accidents

Rajan Gandhi
India, since its independence, has expanded exponentially in terms of population, infrastructure as well as overall socioeconomic development. Indian population increased from 1.03 billion in 2001 to 1.31 billion by 2015, an increase of 27%.
Urban India has grown by 12.2% and estimates indicate that nearly 41% of the Indian population will be urban by 2030. Between 2001 and 2015, the per-capita income of Indians increased more than fivefold, from Rs.17,917/- to Rs.93,231/- thereby increasing motor vehicles in an environment of easy availability, aggressive marketing, better purchasing power and the necessity of travel which has led to an unprecedented motorization in India. Parallel to this growth, Road Traffic Injuries (RTIs) have also risen and are major cause of deaths/ injuries among Indians. To keep pace with motorization, road infrastructure has also been increasing, though at a much slower pace. Vehicular density has increased many folds. India stands 4th in terms of vehicular population. Development, operation and maintenance of roads in India are the shared responsibility of different authorities at both state and central levels but safety parameters have lagged behind as seen by a continuous increase in RTIs and deaths.
Every day, nearly 400 road deaths occur on Indian roads and several thousands are hospitalized due to road crashes. Notably there are high rates of death among young people and males, this issue calls for serious and coordinated action from the government and all other stakeholders. Evidence from high-income countries clearly indicates that road accidents are predictable and preventable. Recognizing the enormity of the problem, the Government of India and different states have taken several steps in recent years. The Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill 2016 and several judicial directives in recent times are aimed at strong actions to be taken by governments. This calls for participation of all key stakeholders in different ministries, industry, academia and civil society to develop coordinated and convergent actions to advance road safety in India. The United Nations Decade for Road Safety (2011-2020) advocates application of “five pillars” (Road safety management, Safer road infrastructure, Safe vehicles, Safer road use behavior and Post crash care) as a framework to reduce road accidents and deaths globally. The targets set for the same is to halve the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020. While every death and disabled person is an unbearable loss and burden to their families, the collective loss to Indian society is huge and phenomenal in economic terms, roughly amounting to 3 % of total GDP.
Since road safety is the shared responsibility of different ministries, implementing road safety programmes requires well-coordinated and integrated approaches at both national and state levels. While several road safety legislations and their enforcement are quick enough to yield results in some areas, others like making all roads ideally safe are time consuming and resource intensive. Our J &K state also formulated J&K Road Safety Policy in 2016 with all the possible feel good factors in it. Policy emphasized development of road safety which requires a larger systematic approach moving beyond small scale efforts with regard to helmets, seat belts, drinking and driving, speeding, day time running lights and use of cell phones on an urgent basis. Implementation of these legislations by enforcement agencies that need to augment and train their manpower, upgrade technology and enforce on a continuous basis. Establish a dedicated and road safety fund state level to cover all road safety initiatives. Funding should come from both central and state levels and invested in managing the five pillars of road safety.
Mandatory road safety audits for all new and existing roads from the design stage itself. Road building agencies should be held responsible for violating norms. Low cost engineering solutions should be encouraged to solve safety inadequacies of all roads. Why can’t we rope in state engineering college students as their summer internship projects on this? Creating a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund to provide compulsory insurance for all road users in J&K and also develop a scheme for cashless treatment for all RTI victims soon after an accident in the earliest possible time. Standardize, regulate, and enforce vehicle safety requirements. Build capacities across various sectors police, health, and transport at state level in a planned and phased manner. Establish centres of excellence in road safety in different domains. Strengthen trauma care on a priority basis in all district hospitals, medical college hospitals and trauma care centers along highways with required human, financial and technical resources to cover both hospital care and rehabilitation services. Adopt the principle of safe systems approach for design of all new roads. The road design should be forgiving, factoring in the assumption that people will always make mistakes; such mistakes should not lead to death and life threatening injury. Strengthen road safety information systems to obtain reliable, robust and good quality data to guide all road safety activities. Mechanisms to obtain good data through the newly introduced road accident data collection formats should be strengthened at district and state levels with technical inputs. Undertake large scale advocacy activities and targeted public awareness campaigns to place road safety on agenda and bring behavioral changes among road users.
But practically, case of our state of Jammu and Kashmir is totally different as accident after accident has not moved anything on ground except lip services. It was Ragi nallah accident in sixties when over three dozen people lost their lives followed with another major accident at same place in the year 1988 in which all the passengers on board died. Over the decades several other major accidents occurred like at Galgander on Doda-Bhaderwah road with over 44 deaths, at Warra on Kishtwar-Thatri road with 39 deaths, at Banderkoot on Kishtwar-Chatroo road with 38 deaths including over two dozen government teachers, Shashoo on Kishtwar Padder road with 42 deaths, near Hasti on Kishtwar-Sarthal road with over two dozen deaths including 14 members of a same family, near Thatri Pul claiming lives of 32 people, near Kuligard with 36 deaths and more recently at Keshwan road in Kishtwar claiming 35 lives and critical injuries to 15 others, 11 students from Poonch died in a road accident on Mughal Road when an over speeding Tempo traveller skidded off the road and plunged into a gorge and recently Sumo plunging into gorge near Mutlihal in Ramban district killing all onboard 8 people.
This is just tip of the iceberg as on an average a thousand deaths per year in the road accidents are the astonishing figures which itself speaks about the gravity of situation and seriousness of authorities. Non availability of government transport and scarcity of private vehicles leading to overloading to the extent of even roofs, totally ignored by traffic police, fake licenses, unfit vehicles with worn out tyres issued roadworthiness certificates, fatigue of drivers are other aspects never taken seriously. Drunken driving is another serious issue which traffic police has never been serious about. A look at the reports of transport and traffic department depicts the sorry state of affairs, as per these reports in the year 2018 in Jammu district 135 people died, 1348 persons got grievously injured but no one got minor injury in the whole year. Similarly for the year 2019 till May, in Jammu district 62 persons died, 545 grievously injured but no one got minor injury which sounds too unrealistic to be true. As per the data till March 2018 J&K has 16,57,433 registered vehicles with Jammu division having 9,96806 and Kashmir 6,60,627 only.
Jammu district itself has 7,24,270 registered vehicles but Srinagar only 3,15,797 only. In addition to this vehicular traffic of Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims and all Kashmir/Leh supplies pass through Jammu only. Total challans during 2018 in Srinagar city were 1,52,930 and in Jammu city 2,44,818, almost double. Of the total 984 persons killed in accidents in the year 2018, 696 are from Jammu division, almost 71 %. Keeping in view of these facts and figures factually it seems Traffic Police is short of staff at Jammu division as compared to Kashmir, which results less vigil, more accidents and obviously more deaths. Government has to take immediate appropriate corrective steps after taking into account all these facts.
Trauma centres along the highway is the need of the hour as survival of victims depends upon the golden hour post accident but lack of critical care ambulances along with non availability of trained medical staff makes survival of victims next to impossible. No medical training to people of villagers along the roads makes things more complicated as no worth mentioning first aid is provided to victims. In Jammu division only ray of hope is GMC with its Neurosurgery and Cardio division at SSH which itself doesn’t have any emergency speaks itself about state of affairs of our medical facilities. No repairs of roads for years together, no strengthening of black accidental spots, no check on quality/design of state managed roads are other serious issues which are totally ignored. Seriousness of administration is at stake as no accountability has been fixed after all these accidents, no official has been taken to task and no workable mechanism has been set till date. It is really shocking to see decades after decades administration has been simply unable to set the things right despite so many lives being lost every year. Without any concrete steps things are not going to change automatically, we have to invest time, money, manpower and best brains to set things right, the earliest we do better it is for public of Jammu and Kashmir.