A recently released report of the National Crime Records Bureau says that in 2012, there were 381 deaths and 1,287 injuries due to road accidents in India. According to a 2010 World Health Organization report, worldwide road accidents lead to 12.4 lakh deaths per annum. Developing nations are more vulnerable because of low safety awareness among the public, higher volumes of non–motorised traffic and not too robust emergency management systems. In 2012, the Indian government had identified 325 spots on the highways across 13 states that account for 90% of the road mishaps in the country.
To make its highways safe, India must include safety as one of the performance parameters for the concessionaires who build these roads. Here, in the highway public-private partnership projects, the concessionaire is responsible for designing, funding, constructing, operating and maintaining the project for a pre-determined concession period comprising the construction period and the operations & maintenance (O&M) period. In return, the concessionaire is authorised to collect toll revenue during the concession period. During the O&M period, the concessionaire’s performance is monitored in terms of pre–determined standards pertaining to service levels focused primarily on riding quality.
A safety index could be designed to measure the performance of the concessionaires. If the concessionaires perform below par, they could be penalised and vice versa if they do better than expected. The safety index would capture performance in terms of parameters like number of accidents and severity of accidents in comparison to performance of similar road stretches; similar physically and in terms of traffic mix and volume; or previous performance of the stretch under consideration. Needless to say, the availability of adequate and dependable data over time is critical to do this.
This approach has been successful in many countries. For example, Spain successfully introduced performance-based indicators in highway contracts. Explicit indicators quantifying highway safety have been incorporated in some of the European concession contracts in Britain, Finland, Portugal and Hungary in a customised manner which takes into account factors such as easily obtainable data, accident severity, exposure to risk, comparison with similar highway stretches etc. Incentives in above cases have been broadly of two types – linked to additional payments and additional concession periods, which is more common.
This model can be tried on selected highway stretches in India; starting with those with a large number of vulnerable accident-prone spots, as identified by the government in 2012.
Rohit Kumar Singh is an IAS officer. Abhishek Mukherjee works for Asian Development Bank
The views expressed by the authors are personal