The smooth and wide roads on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, which made it possible for vehicles to zip past, was once the pride of the state.
However, the high accident rate has become a huge cause for concern and the expressway is in the limelight for the wrong reasons.
Monday’s mishap, which killed 27 and injured 28 others, is one of the worst accidents on the expressway in its 12-year history, in terms of casualties, said the highway police.
With this incident, the number of casualties on the highway, since its inception, has crossed 700, while the number of accidents has reached around 10,000. In this year alone, 20 accidents have been reported, in which 40 people have lost their lives.
Built in 2000, the 95-km stretch was touted as the first six-lane highway in the country, and drastically reduced the travel time between Mumbai and Pune, the state’s largest cities. It is used by about 20,000 vehicles a day. Highway police have banned motorbikes, bullock carts and tractors from the expressway. Jaywalking is forbidden.
However, rules are rarely followed. On September 16, 2010, a biker was killed in an accident with state minister Laxman Dhobale’s car, on the expressway. The biker was driving through a no-entry zone.
Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and private firm Ideal Road Builders (IRB), are the two agencies responsible for maintaining the expressway. However, when contacted, MSRDC officials refused to speak on the high accident rate.
The highway police claimed that repeated action against errant drivers has failed to curb mishaps.
“While most accidents are due to human error, factors such as lack of space for vehicles on the sides of the road, in case of breakdowns, and no facilitation centre for emergencies, are resulting in failure to control the accident rate,” said Dilip Bhujbal, superintendent of police, highways (Pune division).