While the Shiromani Akali Dal and the state Congress blame each other for losing the cashless treatment scheme for accident victims to Rajasthan, the fact remains that the state transport department made little effort to strengthen the Punjab Road Safety Council (PRSC).
"The accident rate in Punjab, one of the highest in the country, would have come down by nearly 20% to 30% if the roads were constructed as per the safety norms laid down by the council. Punjab on an average loses around 15 lives in road accidents every day," said Kamaljit Singh Soi, vice-chairman of the council and an expert on road safety.
The state government had submitted an affidavit in the Punjab and Haryana high court in 2010 saying it would provide the entire infrastructure, including an office, secretarial staff and modes of transport, to the council to ensure its smooth functioning.
However, after more than three years, the government has failed to honour its commitment.
Soi was included in the council only after the high court told the state government to have a road safety expert. According to the statutes of the council, it needs to have two more road safety experts, but the government has made a makeshift arrangement by having two road safety activists.
Of the total 22 members of the council, the rest are all senior Punjab bureaucrats from both civil and police departments. Though earlier the council was chaired by the chief minister, owing to his busy schedule, transport minister Ajit Singh Kohar heads the council now.
According to the Constitution, all states are required to have a road safety council. The Indian Road Congress, a body under the Centre, spells out that all state and national highway projects should be cleared by the council before being put into shape. The council will have to ensure that all road safety measures have been adhered to before a particular road stretch is constructed.
However, the council in Punjab during the last more than four years of its formation has got not even a single road to ponder and all are being dealt directly by the Public Works Department.
During the eight meetings held in the last four years, the minutes clearly point out that the council required an office and other paraphernalia to start performing its duty, but on ground nothing moved. A site was earmarked in the industrial area, Chandigarh, to have an office of the council at the Punjab Roadways workshop but this also remained on paper.
The council also submitted a proposal to the Centre for opening a driving training school at Kapurthala, all-woman driving training school at Pathankot and to have recovery vans, alcometers, speed guns, speed governors and ambulances. However, the state transport department never followed it up with the Centre to avail these.
Principal secretary transport Jagpal Singh Sandhu, when asked as to why the council had not been strengthened, said he could tell only after looking at the facts.
When asked why he and his predecessors never responded to various communiques sent by the council to provide even the bare minimum facilities, Sandhu said he was not aware of it and these were mere allegations.
When contacted, the transport minister said the government could not bring about a change on the roads overnight. "It will take time and we will do it gradually," he said.
The council had conducted a survey where it had identified 350 black spots all over the state which were most accident prone and wanted the state government to rectify those, but to no avail.
Expert wants cashless scheme back
Soi, meanwhile, has written to Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh and SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar to make efforts with the Centre to bring back the cashless treatment for accident victims back to Punjab.
"The project was initially designed for NH 15, from Amritsar to Pathankot. The project was conceived to provide relief and medical aid to road victims at the killer stretch which had claimed 252 lives in 2011-12. Around 390 accidents were reported and almost 500 people were seriously injured on the highway that year," Soi said.
He attributed this to a heavy flow of traffic on this stretch owing to a large number of devotees who came from far-flung areas to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple, Amritsar, and continued their journey towards the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir.