DANGEROUS WAYS

  • Ink Correspondent
  • Publish Date: Nov 3 2017 8:01PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Nov 3 2017 8:01PM
DANGEROUS WAYS

 

Roads in Jammu and Kashmir have become death traps. Why isn’t the government doing anything about it?

 

At a seminar on road accidents earlier this month, Transport Minister Sunil Sharma listed some of the issues blighting the traffic department. One, traffic police manning the streets are corrupt. Two, road construction hasn’t kept pace with the rapid growth in transport.

There are 13.5 lakh cars in Jammu and Kashmir, Sharma said. In the last 10 years, he added, while traffic has grown by nearly 300%, the road network has expanded by only about 10%. Hence the traffic congestion and, thereby, greater risk of accidents.

So bad is the situation, in fact, that, as per data available with the traffic department, about 46% more civilians have died in road accidents since 2004 than in the armed conflict. In all, according to a report by the central home ministry, at least 13,936 civilians have been killed in the insurgency since 1989. In comparison, in the last 13 years alone, at least 14,407 civilians have been killed and more than a lakh injured in 77,786 road accidents across the state.

Since 2010, nearly 4,000 people have lost their lives in traffic accidents and over 30,000 people have been injured in more than 20,000 accidents; last year, at least 910 people died and around 8,000 were injured. In a survey conducted by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2013, Jammu and Kashmir topped the list of “high accidental death-prone areas”. A road accident in the state has 64% chance of taking a life as against the national average of 36.4%.

But why is the traffic situation in Kashmir so alarming? The reasons cited by Sharma offer only a part of the explanation, said a senior official in the traffic department.

The official bemoaned the absence of a comprehensive study of road accidents in Jammu and Kashmir. “Such a study would lay the foundation for preparing a comprehensive roadmap for preventing road accidents. It will show exactly what role the traffic department has to play, how roads can be made less deadly and how better healthcare can help prevent deaths post accidents,” the official added. “I believe if this is done and then implemented in letter and spirit, we will be able to prevent road accidents to a large extent.”

Currently, the official complained, traffic strategies in a particular place are largely based on either the experience of senior officials or the recent history of accidents there.“I have rarely seen, at any time, a holistic view of traffic being taken. Take the example of traffic lights that were installed to prevent traffic snarls. You will not see them at all junctions. Traffic signals at one point and not at another will only lead to traffic congestion. Similarly the government acts only when there is a major accident. They order an inquiry and then forget about it. This is the state of affairs of the traffic department these days.”

A few attempts made in the past to ease the traffic situation have not yielded much, largely because they were not followed through. In 2012, a House committee led by Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami had recommended a slew of reforms in Transport, Traffic Police, and Roads and Buildings departments to curb road accidents. In its report, the committee listed the growing number of vehicles, narrow and faulty roads, negligent driving, and ageing vehicles among the reasons for growing accidents in J&K. The recommendations were never implemented, said a retired traffic police officer. 

In 2015, the state government had announced the setting up of a Lead Agency to coordinate all activities related to road safety in the state.“It was only on paper,” the official said.

The need of the hour, the retired officer said, was to craft a strategy and implement it strictly. “We have to find solutions, not create controversies,” he added.