National highway-71, which connects the Doaba and Malwa regions, separated comedian Jaspal Bhatti from fans and 13 schoolchildren of Akal Academy from families. Its thirst for blood is not over.
On October 25, 2012, Bhatti's son fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed his car into a roadside tree on a sharp curve on the Malsiyan-Shahkot stretch, and on March 4, the bus with 40 children on board hit a truck on the Jalandhar-Nakodar route after moving out of Boparai village.
On the 140-kilometre journey from Jalandhar to Ferozepur, drivers meet 15 black spots (dangerous zones) just up to Shahkot, when they have covered just 40 kilometers. Many fatal accidents at these spots have been because of a mix of three factors: twisting road, buffer lines of trees and concrete structures, and reckless drivers. Applying brakes on this road is inviting a pile-up from behind, as though the speed limit is 40 kilometres an hour, the average recorded speed is 120.
Constructed to kill
The National Highway Act disallows any construction within 30 metres of the road, but schools, marriage palaces, shops and houses are not even beyond 3 metres. The construction of flyovers to connect Jagraon and Moga, touted as achievement by the state government, has only made the highway narrower and more dangerous, at a time when traffic has multiplied 10 times, as people going to Malwa prefer to take this route.
The work of converting the Jalandhar-Barnala stretch to six lanes is sanctioned but yet to begin. As long as the route stays congested, deaths will continue.
The road is connected the constituency of state transport minister Ajit Singh Kohar, who also happens to be chairman of Punjab State Road Safety Council.
Even the 6-km inner road from Addi Khui to Wariana in Kapurthala and the stretch along Feroze and Mand villages are most dangerous, mainly because of too many accesses to the national highway from adjoining villages.
Head constable Gurmeet Singh, who was on highway patrol last year, counted 63 deaths on the Malsiyan-Shahkot stretch and saved 450 lives by moving the injured to the hospital.
ASI Darshan Lal, who now is on highway patrol, rues the lack of fuel and parking space for the rescue vehicles. "We have to park on the roadside only," he said, adding: "The team pays `100 a day from it pocket to buy petrol so that it can drive the patrol cars from the police station to the spots."
In this month alone, four major accidents have occurred on the Malsiyan-Shahkot stretch, in which five people have been killed and seven injured critically.
Punjab State Road Safety Council vice-chairman Dr Kamaljit Singh Sohi, has filed a public-interest petition in the court, suggesting measures for road safety, citing the school-bus accident of March 4 that killed 13 schoolchildren of Akal Academy.