National Highway 1A: Accidents are virtually a daily feature on the 108km stretch of National Highway-1A, which passes through Punjab and links the northern region with National Highway-1. The highway, which leads towards Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, is widely used by pilgrims and tourists.
As many as 73 persons have been killed this year so far on this highway, one of the busiest of the state. On September 9, eight accidents were reported at the Dasuya police station in Hoshiarpur district.
"Only two cases were registered, while in the other incidents, the parties involved reached a compromise," said Dasuya station house officer (SHO) Pritam Singh.
Travelling on NH-1A, the HT team noticed intersections in the road divider after almost every 500 metres. The highway authorities have put up signboards to alert drivers of the intersection ahead, but these are located so close to the dividers that there is hardly any reaction time.
High-mast lights and reflectors are conspicuous by their absence. "Vehicles parked on the roadside during the night prove to be very dangerous. There is virtually no highway patrolling for ensuring that drivers move these vehicles away from the highway," said Ashok Kumar, a Dasuya resident.
On the night of October 22, a truck rammed into a parked truck near Bhogpur (Jalandhar), causing serious injuries to the driver and the cleaner.
When the HT team visited the spot three days later, the two trucks were still there. Rajinder Singh, a shopkeeper, said, "The parked truck's driver was changing a punctured tyre when the mishap occurred. The vehicle had no reflectors, so the other truck's driver failed to notice it. Several accidents have happened this way. In the absence of police patrolling, the parked truck's driver neither bothered to install reflectors nor moved the vehicle at a safe distance from the highway."
Police patrol teams missing
The HT team failed to spot any police patrol vehicle on the highway. When quizzed in this regard, a policeman from the Mukerian police station revealed, "Staff has been deployed for highway patrolling, besides vehicles, but these hardly move on the roads due to inadequate quantity of diesel provided by the police office. How many times can they refill their vehicles from their own pockets?"
"The patrol teams have been deployed at various points on the national highway. I will check why they are not on the job," Mukerian assistant superintendent of police Nanak Singh told HT.
The authorities are surely at fault, but the motorists are also to be blamed for the highway mess. Underage driving, triple riding (the HT team even saw four persons riding a motorcycle near Bhogpur), overloaded three-wheelers and dangerous short cuts used by schoolchildren on bicycles are a common sight.
Signboards with key information such as emergency phone numbers are a rarity. "This shows the carelessness on the part of the authorities. Despite so many deaths every year, they have still not woken up from their slumber," said Nirmal Singh of Dasuya.
Families picking up the piecesSeptember 4, 2013, will haunt head constable Tirath Singh (47) of Datta Nangal village (Hoshiarpur district) for the rest of his life. On that fateful day, Tirath, employed as a reader with the Mukerian station house officer (SHO), was on his way to office on a motorcycle when he was hit by a truck outside Uchi Bassi bus stand near Dasuya.
The truck driver, coming from the opposite direction, failed to notice Tirath crossing a parked bus on the single-lane road. A sharp edge slashed his right arm, which was later amputated by doctors. "I lost my working arm. So far, there has been no help from the state government. I have spent nearly Rs 1.25 lakh on my treatment. My seniors have sent my case for reimbursement to the government," said Tirath.
"It is very painful to see him without his arm, but I am relieved that at least he is alive. Anything could have happened," said Tirath's wife Pushpinder Kaur, adding that they were visiting Amritsar regularly for treatment.
Unlike Tirath, Devi Dass (48) of Mirasgarh (Hoshiarpur) didn't survive. This vegetable vendor was the sole bread-winner of his family. "My father was on an Activa scooter when he was hit by an unidentified car from the front. We have not received any compensation so far. We have no idea how to approach the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal for compensation," said Ajay Kumar, the elder of Devi Dass' two sons.
Jagjit Singh (21) has been bed-ridden for the past two years after being hit by a four-wheeler. His father, Amrik Singh, told HT, "I have spent nearly Rs 22 lakh on his treatment. I don't have any money left. There is no help from the government and I wish some NGO comes forward to bail me out of this financial crunch and help my son get back on his feet."
108km stretch passes through Punjab (Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot districts)
(it's part of NH-44 after rationalisation of highways)
Accidents deaths (as registered in police records)
2012 2013 (till Oct)
Pathankot 14 6
Mukerian 21 21
Dasuya 7 21
Tanda 8 8
Bhogpur 12 17
Total 62 73