Motoring

The unacceptable, but so very acceptable condition of our roads

more-in

Road accidents do not seem to raise the same chorus of clamour other tragedies befalling the general public do

If I was a builder who built a sub-standard building that collapsed and killed a few people, or if I was an engineer who inspected and certified such a building as safe, I would be arrested. If I was not very rich, I would probably do some jail time too. I think it is also safe to assume that the State would chip in and offer compensation for the deaths. It does so in cases of accidents, fires, or bridges falling.

Funny, then, that a city should simply shake off responsibility when its own municipality is directly responsible for the safety and maintenance of the space. The failure to maintain roads can, and does lead to deaths. But somehow, these deaths do not lead to an outcry, or calls for justice and affixing of culpability, the way a building or bridge collapse death would.

The Hindu reported recently that, between 2013 and 2017, close to 15,000 Indians had died in accidents caused by potholes. Other reports suggest that the government has admitted to over 9,300 deaths and 25,000 people being injured because of potholes over the last three years. Our Supreme Court has described this situation as “unacceptable”.

Mumbai, with its nearly five-month monsoon spell, is especially vulnerable to pothole-related damage. In July last year, a young motorcyclist was killed when his bike fell after hitting a pothole. Just days before, two other pothole-related incidents were reported, one involved a pedestrian and another a mother-of-two who was riding pillion on a bike.

Recently, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) flatly refused to pay compensation to victims of road accidents, even if these deaths were caused by potholes. A corporator had demanded compensation, in response to which, the BMC said that the roads were the responsibility of the contractors.

Bikers navigate potholes on a Mumbai road

Bikers navigate potholes on a Mumbai road   | Photo Credit: Vijay Bate

In November, a woman and a six-month-old baby were reported killed when the bike they were riding pillion on skidded on a potholed road in Dadar. The family of four on the bike was thrown off and crushed by an oncoming water tanker. Oddly enough, the police thought it fit to arrest the tanker driver, but not to take any action against those who are responsible for filling potholes on the roads.

The BMC has not responded well to criticism of its handling of the pothole situation. When radio jockey Malishka spoofed the ‘Sonu’ song, calling it the ‘Pothole Mix’, changing the lyrics to describe the mess the city is reduced to during the rainy season — potholes, water-logging, traffic and stalling of trains — the Shiv Sena and its corporators responded with outrage, suggesting that she be sued for ‘defaming’ the municipal body. Eventually, the BMC did send a notice to the RJ’s mother, for ‘dengue breeding’ at home.

Perhaps, the corporators need to take some lessons from Mumbaikar Dadarao Bilhore. In 2015, his teenage son died in a pothole-related accident. By June 2018, the grieving father had managed to fill up 556 potholes. He did express the hope that the BMC and MMRDA would look at people and be inspired to do a better job.

Bilhore has shown that it can be done quickly and efficiently. It is, nevertheless, a great tragedy that heartbroken citizens should have to do a job for which taxpayers are already paying municipalities and their contractors. Perhaps, the courts need to do more than say “unacceptable”.

The author is a writer of essays, stories, poems and scripts for stage and screen

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics Motoring
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 5:29:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/road-accidents-do-not-seem-to-raise-the-same-chorus-of-clamour-other-tragedies-befalling-the-general-public-do/article25879817.ece

Next Story