Personnel of Kerala MVD and the police have yet again been caught napping, even as Kerala woke up on Thursday to the horrific news of a rashly-driven tourist bus that rammed into the rear of a KSRTC superfast bus at Palakkad, resulting in the death of nine. The bus was taking school students on an Ooty tour and was found to be over-speeding at 97.20 km per hour.
Slack enforcement of road rules
The accident came even as little action was being taken, although tourist buses illegally retrofitted with discotheque-like lights and sound systems and travelling at breakneck speed are the norm along the State’s highways. Such flagrant rule violations had lessened a few years ago after enforcement personnel initiated action following a spree of accidents, only to make a swift comeback soon after the pandemic.
Having verified videos of the ill-fated bus leaving the premises of Baselios Vidyaniketan, Ernakulam, on Wednesday evening, MVD personnel confided that many tourist-bus operators continued to pay scant regard to the colour code (which insisted on white paint and a blue strip for the exterior) and other mandatory safety norms which barred retrofitting of LED and other lights that distracted and oftentimes temporarily blinded the vision of other road users. Slack enforcement by MVD and the police during night worsened the situation, with many, including Enforcement RTOs whose primary duty is to prevent accidents, not taking a proactive stand.
Even worse, a circular issued by the Transport Department on July 13 covers only contract carriages (tourist buses) availed for tour by college students and not those availed for school picnics. It has however curbed the use of distracting lights and annoying/high-decibel audio systems and warns of such buses/vans being seized. The circular further insists that the head of the college concerned must ensure that the vehicle contracted belongs to a credible agency and inform the RTO/Joint RTO concerned.
MVD officials spoke of how they were hamstrung in initiating action against tourist buses and other vehicles that violated speed norms, were rashly driven, or even jumped signals, since almost all the 200-odd CCTVs and speed radars that were installed in 2012 on highways and other arterial roads were dysfunctional. “Most of them cannot be repaired, due to little or no maintenance. The worst part is that the Finance Department has not sanctioned funds to install new artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled cameras.”
Speaking about the action that would be taken to prevent accidents like the one on Wednesday midnight, Transport Commissioner S. Srijith (who is also Secretary of Kerala Road Safety Authority (KRSA)) said he would inspect the accident scene on Thursday evening, following which a meeting of the district-level Road-Safety Council will be convened. “MVD personnel skilled in analysing accidents and suggesting ways to mitigate them, have already been sent to the spot. The accident has dampened the morale of enforcement and other stakeholders who played a part in lessening road fatalities in the State by 13.50 per cent during the past five months,” he said.
App for ambulances
In this situation, instructions will be issued to all educational institutions, including schools, to inform MVD personnel concerned, to ensure that the driver is capable of safely ferrying the students and the vehicle is roadworthy. In addition, an app will be readied, so that ambulances reach the accident spot at short notice. This is because there are reports that many ambulances reached Wednesday’s accident spot late, he said.