National Highway-95: Traffic on this highway running across the breadth of the state connecting one end to the other is fast, chaotic and uneven with a major portion of the 225-km-long highway from Kharar to Hussainiwala on the India-Pakistan border being widened.
Owing to the fast-moving traffic and the highway being widened besides the absence of road safety measures, 164 people lost their lives and 165 others were injured in 195 accident cases this year till September.
Driving on the highway that connects Punjab's capital Chandigarh to the border areas of the state is no pleasure as the driving on the hostile road is full of stress and fear. Travel on this highway, and the Punjab government's claims of having best roads in the country seem hollow. For years the project of widening of the highway is nowhere near completion, adding to the woes of travellers.
The very beginning of the highway at Kharar is chaotic and is prone to accidents. Due to fast pace of urbanisation in the area and a number of educational institutes coming up in the vicinity, traffic here is simply unmanageable.
Despite some measures, such as diverting traffic from within Kharar town and building a road in the seasonal nullah from T-Point, the start of the highway witnesses long traffic jams the entire day. As there is no scope to widen the road, the situation is getting from bad to worse. The absence of traffic cops makes commuters struggle.
A major portion of the road from Kharar to Ludhiana is single road and the fast-moving heavy vehicles, especially private luxury buses, which ply in large numbers on this stretch, make driving unsafe.
Bottleneck in Ludhiana
Ludhiana city through which the highway passes is the bottleneck through which traffic moves at a snail's pace. A distance of 10km from Samrala Chowk to Punjab Agricultural University through the city takes more than an hour. At Samrala Chowk and the other end near the PAU, the work on the road is going on for years but there is no sign of completion. Also, in the absence of signboards on the road, first-timers tend to lose track of the road.
Killer Ludhiana to Moga stretch and further
Ahead of Ludhiana till Jagraon and further to Moga and Talwandi Bhai, the highway is referred to as the killer road. The most notorious is the stretch of the road falling under the police post Chowki Maan between Jagraon and Moga. In 125 reported accidents, 109 people have died in nine months this year starting from January.
According to a daily commuter, the widening project is underway for the past four years. "I don't know how many more years it would take; driving on this road is impossible, I have no choice because of my ancestral house or I would not travel on the road," a frequent traveller told HT.
The under-construction roads are unsafe because the builders have not adopted to road safety standards. The diversions are not properly displayed and there is no arrangement to light up the roads. For anyone driving for the first time on the stretch, especially during night, diversions and steep turns are like death traps.
Shockingly, there are walls constructed right in the middle of the road. Though these concrete walls are part of the road-widening project, there are no alerts. Vehicles coming from the link roads on to the highway are a major cause of accidents.
No police, no highway patrol
During the entire travel from Kharar to Hussainiwala, the HT team didn't come across any highway patrol. The state government may be making tall claims of helping travelers, but except for a Punjab police traffic team challaning the offenders on the railway crossing near Moga, there was no one to help the commuters.
On the highway passing through towns of Kharar, Samrala, Kohara, Ludhiana, Jagraon and Moga, the commuters were struggling on their own without any assistance from the police. As per reports, there are two highway patrol vehicles, but they are not working.
'Drug route has more number of link roads'
According to vice-chairman, Punjab State Road Safety Council, Kamaljit Singh Soi, the NH-95 has more number of link roads connecting to the highway, which leads to more accidents. Also, the highway is a drug traffickers' route connecting the border district Ferozepur with urban areas of Ludhiana and Chandigarh.
Bustling household to a ghost house
This bustling household of Daulatpura village of Moga district became a ghost house after May 6, 2012, when 11 of the 13 members of the family died in a road accident. "For many days after the accident, I used to hear the voices of all family members who had died in the accident," 40-year-old Manjit Kaur, who was still in shock, said.
The total number of deaths in the accident was 18. Other than 11 members of this family, five members of another family and two from another, belonging to the same village, died in the accident.
Now in the name of family, Manjit has a six-year-old son and her father Surjeet Singh (76), who started living with her daughter after the accident. "Living in a daughter's house is a curse but I am helpless as there is no one to support her," he said.
Recalling the incident, Surjeet Singh said 18 people, including children and the elderly, were travelling in a newly bought Tata 407 truck, returning to the village when it collided with a 10-tyre truck near the railway crossing between Jagraon and Moga on May 6 night. "Such was the impact of the accident that the bodies of all those travelling in the truck were chopped," said Surjeet Singh, adding that the dead were given a mass burial.
Manjit Kaur, who ran a grocery shop in the village with her husband, has been forced to take up a job as a class-4 helper in the office of the Moga deputy commissioner. "I just can't work in the shop, I had fond memories of my husband, so I decided to shut the shop and took up the job," Manjit said.
"It is the same road, nothing has changed. Work is still going on; there are a large number of diversions. The government must complete it fast, so that there are no more deaths," said Manjit, looking at her husband's photo.
(With inputs from Anshu Seth)
Accidents on NH-95, 2013 (Jan 1 to Sept 30)
* Police station Kharar (City): Accident cases 20, dead 16, injured 6
* Police station Kharar (Sadar): Accident cases 17, dead 17, injured 23
* Police station Khamano: Accident cases 27, dead 28, injured 7
* Police station Samrala: Accidents cases 28, dead 16, injured 22
* Police post Ramgarh (Sahnewal): Accident cases 10, dead 5, injured 1
* Police station Moga: Accident cases 47, dead 53, injured 31
* Police station Jagraon: Accident cases 43, dead 29, injured 75
Total accidents on killer Ludhiana-Moga stretch: 125, deaths 109, injured 135
(Figures only of reported accidents)
Careless drivers: Varun Sharma, Ludhiana
HT is doing a wonderful job by taking up the campaign. I was recently going from Ludhiana to Amritsar in a bus. To my shock, the driver of the Punjab roadways bus was reading a newspaper while driving. He had kept it on its steering wheel. When confronted, he put the paper away. Soon he took out his mobile phone and started speaking to someone. He slowed down the bus and kept on talking on the phone. This is the pathetic world we live in as there are no rules to check such carelessness.
Encroachments to blame: Amarjit Singh Bhogal, Ferozepur
HT has taken the issue threadbare. The major reasons for accidents have been discussed. Most of the accidents occur while overtaking along with speeding, wrong parking, stray cattle, sharp curves, narrow and potholed roads, roadside encroachments, illegal constructions near roads, and non-following of traffic rules. We see illegal construction of mazaars, gurdwaras and temples on roadsides. These buildings are often constructed on government land. Then it becomes a religious place and people throng there and the roads are blocked due to rush. These illegal encroachments need to be dealt with strictly. The highway police may be doing a good job, but they should ensure that no wrong parking on highways is done by trucks and trolleys, especially at night.
Campaign will make authorities act: Bholla Singh Sidhu, Amritsar
Your effort to highlight the loss of innocent lives on Punjab's killer roads is laudable. The campaign will definitely touch the conscience of the authorities and the public at large. The government should fix a speed limit on all state highways and should compel road-users to follow it strictly or face heavy fines. This will provide additional income for the state exchequer. People visiting the US and Europe know how strict and honest the authorities are in implementation of such rules. All highways should have two or more lane passages with a three-foot high divider. All T-junctions on the highways should be protected with blinking red lights. As far as possible, quality highways should have toll tax for all vehicles; this will reduce the crowd on the roads. Tractors and trolleys or vehicles exempted from payment of road tax should be strictly prohibited from entering the highways.
Rules poorly enforced: Arshpreet Kaur, via email
Approximately half the deaths on the country's roads involve vulnerable road users, motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists. According to the recently published WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety, though there are laws on speed, wearing seatbelts and helmets, and drink-driving, they are poorly enforced. The 'Be Aware, Be Safe' road safety campaign was designed to address these issues at formative ages. Educational measures have been advocated as a means of teaching children how to cope in a road environment with emphasis on following traffic rules.
Govt should be strict: Ashish Kumar, via email
I appreciate the HT campaign on road safety and hope it would make the much required impact. The government needs to deal sternly with the menace of pressure horns and rash driving, especially by private buses.