Likhit Rai protesting against pothole deaths in Mangaluru. His 20 year old friend died in a pothole related accident the previous day. (Photo: India Ahead Network)
We’ve seen Independence Day celebrations kick off all over India with tremendous fanfare and pomp. As we gear up to commemorate our nation’s platinum jubilee, it’s also important to reflect on our shortcomings. ‘Pothole death’ is a phrase commonly seen in India’s print media every year during the monsoon season and 2022 is no exception.
It’s a phrase that sees no usage in the world’s developed countries. It’s a matter of great shame that 75 years after achieving independence, Indian roads are still the most unsafe in the world. India’s Minister for Road Transport, Nitin Gadkari recently lamented that even though India is home to less than 1% of the world’s cars, 10% of the world’s road accident fatalities occur in our country.
The reasons behind our abysmal road safety record are complex and manifold and will take years to fully fix. But roads are physical, man-made objects that can be fixed in a very short time frame.
Every resident of India’s major cities has to deal with waterlogged roads and traffic jams in monsoon. Our major population centers become congested for weeks on end, and the economic cost of the downturn in productivity is tremendous. A few years ago, my father’s car was on a waterlogged street in south Delhi, which is considered the national capital’s ‘posh’ area.
Dirty rainwater from the road seeped into the sedan, sloshing around on the car’s floor. The car stalled soon after and he was forced to abandon it. It stank for days afterward despite undergoing a thorough cleaning. Many people in India favor buying SUVs over sedans for this very reason. Many of our roads are not good enough for low-lying cars, even in 2022.
But what happened to my father is nothing compared to the trauma experienced by victims of India’s potholes. The government said 4,775 and 3,564 accidents occurred due to potholes in the years 2019 and 2020 respectively.
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In December 2018, The Supreme Court said the death of nearly 15,000 people in pothole-related accidents in the last five years was ‘unacceptable’. Every year, more people in India are killed by potholes than by terrorists and Pakistani and Chinese troops at the border.
How can we aspire to become a major world power in the 21st century if we aren’t even able to provide safe roads for our citizens? Just two days ago, Aatish, a 20 year old scooter rider, lost his life in Mangalore after he tried to evade a pothole. A promising young life snuffed out in an instant by faulty infrastructure. I can only imagine the shock and anguish being felt by his family and by the families of thousands of others across the country whose loved onesfell victim to potholes.
Aatish’s friend, LikithRai staged a solo protest outside his city’s municipality office seeking justice a day after his death. It was the day of RakshaBandhan, a festival that celebrates the bondbetween brothers and sisters. In a clever play on words, Likith’s poster read – ‘Mangalore needs Road SurakshaBandhan’. Suraksha is the Hindi word for safety.
Our Prime Minister is quite fond of referring to fellow citizens as his ‘brothers and sisters’. Will his government take steps to ensure that more of our ‘siblings’ aren’t consigned to an early grave due to faulty road construction?
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is an issue that can be solved fairly easily. One only has to look at the spotlessly clean, well paved roads in Lutyens’ Delhi to realize that Indians are quite capable of building excellent roads. There aren’t any potholes in that part of town because MCD officials take care to maintain it well.
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Unfortunately, most people in India don’t have the luxury of living in Lodi Estate. And those who do have a duty of care to India’s masses which clearly, they aren’t taking very seriously as far as road safety is concerned.
The author has a Master’s degree in Journalism from Goldsmiths College, University of London. The views expressed in the article are personal.