Tragedy occurred when a plane waiting for a landing slot at Delhi airport ran out of fuel and crashed in to a residential area of Gurgaon. First reports indicate 36 people dead and 78 injured – some very seriously. Government has promised a full enquiry in to this terrible tragedy.
How could this happen? Fire broke out in one of Gurgaon’s biggest malls. Due to locked fire escapes many people were unable to escape the raging inferno that engulfed the shops inside. Police are investigating and the Mall manager and some others are likely to be arrested soon. 36 people are known to have died and at least 78 people were injured, some with horrendous injuries.
Tough questions are being asked after a fire broke out in a packed cinema today, killing 36 people and leaving a further 78 with injuries, some of them crippling for life. The member of parliament in whose constituency the cinema falls has promised a full and complete investigation, new regulations and justice to all the victims.
And so on and so on and so on ………………………..
If these were real news stories for 2012 wouldn’t everyone be in uproar? Wouldn’t demands be made for fundamental reforms? However, these, or there equivalent are actually true for the fatalities and injuries on the roads of Gurgaon every month in 2012. 438 people dead, 940 injured just in a place the size of Gurgaon. These are tragic and completely unacceptable figures. What’s more, I believe they are unnecessary. Seeing these figures, shouldn’t there be outrage? Shouldn’t we all be getting our heads together to get these issues addressed?
Reading through these tragic statistics this morning, I couldn’t resist laughing at one figure. It claimed that 40% of all accidents on the roads of Gurgaon prove fatal. Well, there’s a thing. I see accidents every day, very few of them fatal. Maybe I’m just lucky? We all know that in most places at most times the traffic in Gurgaon struggles to move fast enough to cause fatalities. The irony – incidents like last week where an irresponsible taxi driver carrying out an illegal driving maneuver put a dent in my back bumper are not even called accidents – is that because we would be too ashamed of the astronomic numbers. Just take a look around at any set of lights at the proportion of vehicles with dents and/ or scratches to know the reality. Every day we step out there we risk something happening that shouldn’t. Most of the time we consider ourselves lucky if it’s not at the serious end of the scale.
The first problem, as I see it, is that people excuse away such statistics by waffling about ‘the state of the roads’. This is a nonsense, especially if you just delve a little deeper in to the data. Police records indicated that the biggest causes of all these accidents were;
a) Pedestrians suddenly crossing/ stepping out,
c) Drink driving
d) Passing/ overtaking on the inside/ left
e) Driving the wrong way on one-way systems
I can certainly vouch for the risks relating to a) having come close to hitting pedestrians myself on a number of occasions, despite being a well-trained and competent driver who had NEVER had my vehicle come in contact with any other or any person in all my years of driving before coming to India.
Someone once told me that to address the issues on India’s roads there was a need for 1 million trained driving instructors across the whole country. However, when I look at this data I don’t see the issues related to poor training or teaching, but willful bloody-minded selfishness and stupidity. Points b) to e) above do not require any training or teaching to learn that they are wrong – they just require that the people using the road have some respect for the rights of their fellow road users – that each road user acknowledges that the roads are a common resource for the good of us all, best used when we utilize them in a way that entails ‘sharing’. It is a horribly scary experience to be driving on a one-way road, to have not one, but two side by side(overtaking) cars driving towards you, both going the wrong way, both flashing their lights at you to get out of their way.
Part of the issue is about consequences and outcomes. The TOI today talked of drink drivers who are caught being put behind bars for 3-4 days. I say this is pathetic. Firstly, I believe as in other countries the media can play a big part in creating a sense of shame in being caught drink-driving or committing other extremely dangerous acts on the roads, regardless of whether you happen to cause an accident. Let the prominent business man deal with the fallout for his business when his picture and name appear in the newspapers as an insensitive, callous immoral human who is willing to put innocent people’s lives at risk. Let the company employee deal with the anger of colleagues and peers, and fury of employers who see the name of their company embarrassed in public through such actions. I remember an occasion where local media and police where I lived in London were ready to carry out such a ‘name and shame’ campaign concerning people who were failing to stop for pedestrians at crossings in an area where a couple of accidents had happened.
India’s legal system often seems so clogged up with petty matters that it fails to have the time to do justice to such life-threatening issues that really matter. I also believe that economically, today, India has such disparity of wealth that the ‘one size fits all’ legal penalty system is ineffective. To be ‘just’ and effective, I believe there is a case for a far more radical system that pitches the penalties/ fines at means tested levels that would be a genuine deterrent. So, while the fine for talking on a mobile whilst driving might be Rs300/- for a driver, it ought to be at least Rs3,000/- for someone of my economic good fortune.
The cost of maintaining the status quo is just too much in human tragedy and suffering. In addition, the price is too high when a society perceives itself as uncaring, selfish and lacking humanity. It requires creative, imaginative solutions and public commitment and awareness to start to bring real change. It also requires serious attention at the schools level with children (more than just a morning at a traffic park once every 4-5 years!) to bring broader awareness of road safety combined with approaches that would see healthier attitudes towards public assets such as roads held and used ‘in commons’. We have to start somewhere and soon.