The terrible road accident in Kishtwar past week which left 36 persons death has once again brought back focus on so many loopholes that characterize the traffic management in Jammu and Kashmir. Be it faulty road engineering and pathetic condition of roads, or for that matter the reckless and mad driving by people on the wheels, or the lax attitude of corruption-ridden Transport and Traffic authorities -- everything has conspired to make J&K a terrible place in terms of road accidents. Indeed if the frequency of traffic accidents, which is shooting up with each passing day much to the shock and awe of the people is any indicator, then it goes without saying that driving on the roads and streets here has become a massive security hazard.
Road accidents, it goes without saying, are taking a great toll on human lives now than it was ever before. Available data indicates that every year the number of people who were killed in road accidents is way too higher than those who are lost to militancy related incidents. Some years back stray incidents of road accidents would occur here and there in the state but now it is three to five accidents a day with the number of deaths and the wounded people at times exceeding the number of accidents which have turned the roads here into virtual death traps. There are about seven hundred thousand vehicles in the state which make it absolutely high number if other factors are also taken into consideration. The roads which are considered backbone for the proliferation of vehicles in any state or country, have become so constricted in the state that pedestrians find it hard to get along a road without fear of being hit by a passing vehicle. Hilly roads are another peril – not only are they in bad shape in terms of engineering, the public vehicles ply on them without any checks, which adds to the dangers.
Obviously the government is lagging far behind in laying new roads as also in taking care of the existing ones. It is an ill-devised strategy to let the population of vehicles multiply unchecked to match the number of persons in the state in absence of the roads. In the last 20 years, the number of vehicles has increased more than ten-fold while as the space available in terms or roads as well as the road conditions have remained more or less static. Add to add the fact that the roads here are laid and maintained by the illiterate and unskilled labourers hired by the road contractors for the job. Engineers and technicians of concerned government departments are interested only in the sleazy money contractors give them for looking other way and for putting a seal of their approval on overly bad road construction and repair works.
Then there is the problem of reckless driving. Nobody bothers to have any checks in this regard. Even though it is a common knowledge that those plying public transports and goods vehicles are the most ruthless and reckless on the roads, but so far nothing has been done to tame their drivers and owners. Transport authorities are issuing driving licenses, permits and fitness certificates without taking the requisite qualifications into consideration. The indiscriminate issuance of driving licenses to those who do not undergo proper trainings and subsequent tests for securing the licenses as per the rules makes the mess more striking. There can be hardly any state in the whole of India that takes the life of its subjects as casually as in Jammu and Kashmir.
No attention is paid to the public transport services. Instead it is the greedy and unruly transports, drivers and conductors who operate the services at their sweet will and choice. So unreasonable and undependable is the entire public transport system here that one wonders if at all anyone can call it a public utility service. It is pity that even the over-loading goes unchecked and unnoticed which also has taken a heavy toll of life in the state.
Knowing pretty well that the road conditions here are not up to the required mark, authorities seem to close eyes to this important aspect. Most of the drivers are abysmally lacking in the knowledge of traffic rules which leaves them to use their faulty instincts to negotiate the nasty and abrupt situations, always leading to the death of many people aboard the vehicle or pedestrians. It is opportune time to pay immediate heed to the matter so that frequency of road fatalities is brought down. Road fatalities are avoidable, and government must do whatever is needed to avoid recurrence of such deaths.