According to a study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), road traffic accidents cost India nearly 3 pc of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) a year or, in absolute terms, about USD 58,000 million.
Manisha Bhoir, a Mumbai based woman lost her life on July 8, due to falling off her bike and coming under a bus. The incident happened after the woman fell post hitting a pothole on a water-logged street. Four days later, a 29 year old man from Mumbai, lost his life after his two-wheeler skidded over a pothole on the road and was run over by a truck.
These are just two cases among the many deaths caused because of potholes in India. As per latest figures by several state governments, potholes across the country claimed 3,597 lives in 2017, a more than 50 pc rise in the toll last year. In 2016, potholes claimed six lives every day in India. These are just the numbers of reported deaths and the numbers could be higher as dozens of pothole-related deaths go unaccounted. Crash reporting protocols vary from state to state in India.
According to the data shared by states with the Centre, Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of pothole deaths at 987. In Maharashtra, the number of deaths (726) had nearly doubled. Haryana and Gujarat also fare poorly. Haryana reported 522 deaths last year, while it had reported no such fatalities in 2016. Eight people died in Delhi due to pothole-related accidents in 2017. The same city had seen zero deaths in 2016, which gives a clear picture of how potholes are becoming a deadly situation for many. Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha and West Bengal are there among the top 10 states in deaths related to potholes in the country.
As per official statistics, potholes claimed 11,836 lives and left 36,421 persons injured in India from 2013 to 2016. The number of people killed near or on roads under construction also increased from 3,878 in 2016 to 4,250 last year. India has only 2 pc of the world’s motor vehicles but accounts for 12 pc of deaths related to traffic accidents. A study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), mentions that road traffic accidents cost India nearly 3 pc of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) a year or, in absolute terms, about USD 58,000 million.
The Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill, 2017
In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party drafted the Road Transport and Safety Bill to replace the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, which governs road safety in the country. The act has no provisions to ensure accountability of road authorities for defects in the engineering, design and maintenance of roads. It was replaced by the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill, 2017, which was passed by Lok Sabha and sent to Rajya Sabha. Earlier this week on July 23, the Opposition parties during the hearing of the bill claimed that it was mainly to help corporations. The discussion is expected to resume on July 31 in the Rajya Sabha.
According to union road ministry officials the provision for fine against officials has been made in the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill, 2017. The proposed bill has attempted to address the issue of liability for road defects. In case of any road crash injury or death caused by defective road design and engineering, the designated authority responsible to construct and maintain the road is to be penalised with a sum capped at INR 100,000. The bill directs that safety standards be prescribed by the central government. However, the bill will not hold road contractors and engineers criminally liable for causing deaths and injuries.
The blame game
Every year deaths related to potholes seem to increase, especially during monsoons; and just like every year compensation is given to the family of the victims for their loss. But is the compensation enough? Instead of filing cases against contractors and engineers in cases of road maintenance, officials and politicians often blame the drivers for negligence.
Maharashtra PWD minister Chandrakant Patil on July 15 said that pothole-ridden roads cannot be entirely blamed for accidents. “When you talk about a death in such an accident, you forget that five lakh other people have travelled on the same road,” he said in a statement to the media.
What initiatives are being taken to improve the situation?
The government has said that it has mandated Road Safety Audit at each stage of the highway project to provide safer transportation to road users. This Road Safety Audit is being done by Independent Road Safety Auditor at every stage and its findings are being compiled by the concessionaire/contractor of the project.
An independent engineer/authority engineer appointed by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the concerned project directors of NHAI inspect the project highways under their respective jurisdictions and take suitable short term and long term measures through the concessionaires/contractors/to ensure that the roads are pothole free.
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), a civic body has decided to further experiment on Bengaluru roads, with a new technique called ‘micro-surfacing’. The technique involves coating the road with a 6-mm-thick slurry seal. The seal will protect the asphalt and keep it from crumbling. The technique is more popular outside India and has been introduced in Bengaluru after successful trials in Chennai, Hyderabad and Chandigarh.
Haryana had launched the Vision Zero programme last year which is aimed at reducing road traffic accident fatalities to zero in long term. It seems to have made a difference already, as 10 districts where it was rolled out have reported up to 5 pc decline in road accident fatalities. Also, this month Delhi’s state government approved a similar policy that commits to a 10 pc annual reduction in accident deaths.