If I begin with the fact that most of our literate Indians do not even know the precise meaning of road transport signals, rest of the paragraphs can be dispensed with. The milieu, however, has deteriorated to such an extent that mentioning some crucial facts is essential. The fatality risk (road traffic accidents) is above 10 per 100,000 people, which even crosses 11 when metropolitan cities are talked about. And when the new government favors easy living for the common man, they will have to realize that our bicyclists, pedestrians, and other non-motorized commuters are the most vulnerable to these fatal risks, which is contrary to other developed nations where commuting by car or public transport vehicles is more risky. Doesn’t the fact reveal that though we have those red and green indicators, rarely does anyone cares to follow the laid down rules. And if someone disobeys that red signal, it is easy to escape by bribing the traffic policeman.
Pervasive corruption in Regional Transport Offices is known even to the law-protectors. Isn’t it surprising that prior to the introduction of biometric data recording system in the process of issuance/ renewal of driving licenses, any person could easily get a license without visiting the RTO even once. Yes, the problem lies within us and if the intentions of the new PM, as he delivered on the 68th Independence Day, come true many of our road transportation concerns will eradicate. But prior to awakening the common man with respect to following the traffic rules, or for that matter along with such awakening, the government and other officials will have to play a vital role. When we know that the economic viability of a country and residents therein is linked with mobility of people and goods, the domain, indeed, cannot be left in vain.
Another fact that uncovers this grave concern is that India ranks top in the world in terms of cases of road accidents with more than 14 deaths and above 50 injuries every hour. Next, let me come to the issue of pollution which comes into play when our worn-out vehicles move freely on Indian roads. Herein, Suspended Particulate Matters (SPMs), which is the most hazardous to human health, need a special mention as its emission exceeds the limit set by the World Health Organization in most of our metro cities. In this context, if one would check as to how many of the vehicles running on our roads have a legitimate PUC (Pollution under Control Certificate), the alertness of our transport system and law protectors will be exposed. And do the travelers in India even know that if a vehicle is found visibly polluting, even a valid PUC stands void.
The failure owes to modal split (percentage of travelers using a particular transportation mode/ number of trips per such mode), scarcity of road safety policies, unawareness of general public, laidback approach of transport officials, and poor infrastructure. Adding to the curse are those freely moving hawkers, unlawfully parked vehicles, and recklessly driving two-wheelers. Rules pertaining to use of helmets, seat belts, number of commuters, and pollution are rarely followed in rural as well as urban parts of India. Also, it is beyond understanding how distinct streams of transport viz. pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, cars, buses, rickshaws and auto rickshaws can move on same busy road. And when you visit the states of U.P., Bihar, or Punjab, you can find buses and autos parked in the center of roads for engaging passengers, thus leading to anarchy.
Time has arrived to discuss some workable solutions. Foremost, the most viable answer to the concern of transportation chaos is developing regional economies. By this I mean that a specific region must embrace the entire requisite infrastructure ranging from services, shopping, work prospects, and leisure facilities. Though this target is more than challenging to achieve; however the outcomes will be lesser fatal accidents and better standard of living. Next, the new leaders will need to restructure the public transport domain particularly buses. In this context, it is to be noted that most of Indian commuters rely on personal means rather than on metros, rails, and buses. Publicly owned bus systems need special heed. Herein, it becomes vital to know that the Calcutta State Transport Corporation relies heavily on subsidies as the revenues are capable of covering only three-fourth of cost of operations. Fares, if needed, shall be hiked just like rails.
In view of economic dexterity, every government promotes the sale and use of privately-owned vehicles viz. two-wheelers and cars and hence the fact that the roads of our country aren’t apt enough to carry such high pressure goes overlooked. Many western countries promote use of bicycles and other green channels that not only take care of the environment but also ensures safety and public health. Also, the price differential in terms of petrol and diesel should only be allowed to promote farmers and public transport operators, and not to privately-owned diesel cars. The Motor Vehicle Act demands urgent amendments with respect to hardening of vehicle emission standards in India which are way sloppier than Euro standards. More than half of the Indian vehicles are above 5 years old, many among which are decades old, hence not complying with the standards set for environmental prevention, thus demanding for apt dumping laws.
It is evident that not all in this direction can be attained by only the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways of India, currently headed by Mr. Nitin Gadkari. Unified efforts are the need of the hour and all officials, government departments, automobile companies, and the common man have to be the contributories. Car-pooling and such other constructive means are to be promoted. Along with, public awareness programmes for promoting better conformity to laws should be frequently organized. It is expected that the new law-makers will recognize the issues of road congestion, fatal accidents, and ever-rising air pollution. Works in this direction seem to have begun when the new Minister announced scrapping of RTOs, studying of traffic laws of six different countries for firming our law, and proposal of cancellation of driving license of someone who jumps the red light thrice. To end corruption, however, the most spirited role has to be played by us who look for easy and deceitful ways to escape laws and punishments.