The road transport and highways ministry is conducting a poll on its website on ‘Road Safety Specifically for Identification of Black Spots (Accident Prone Area)’. It has more than 30 questions and asks citizens to send their views about the quality of roads in their locality and the reasons for accidents. There are no figures available about the number of respondents, but, if citizens fill this form, the ministry, which formulates standards and guidelines for roads in India, is certain to be overwhelmed with disparaging views about the quality of roads in India. Here is why: India’s daily death toll due to road accidents is more than four times the annual death toll from terrorism. Last year, 139,671 people lost their lives on India’s roads, i.e. 382 deaths every day.
Last week, two more people died in road accidents in two of the most developed states — Maharashtra and Karnataka — because someone forgot to do his duty of filling the potholes. In Bengaluru, a young woman lost her life because she lost her balance and fell on the road when her husband swerved his bike to avoid a pothole. A similar incident happened in Thane, Mumbai. In both cases, instead of booking the contractor/official responsible for maintaining the roads, the police initially booked the drivers of the vehicles. The Centre’s Road Accident Report (2014) says that last year about 11,400 people died thanks to potholes, speed-breakers and bumps on roads, with Uttar Pradesh topping the list.
Who should be held responsible for these deaths that happen because of the bad quality of roads? Road engineers, contractors and civic officials who maintain these structures. But they’re never held responsible and this must change. The Uttar Pradesh government has shown some intent with the state transport minister writing to district heads, civic agencies and development authorities to punish those responsible for potholes. Doing this may not be easy but for starters a ‘liability clause’ must be weaved into agreements with contractors who build roads. As for officials who inspect and sign off projects, there must be a system to ensure that they do their work with diligence.