On May 21 India , and humanity, lost three distinguished persons who had made great contributions in their own chosen fields. Dinesh Mohan contributed greatly to biomedical engineering and transport planning.Rajkumar Keswani was a famous journalist. And we hardly need to introduce Bahuguna as one of the most distinguished environmentalists of our times.
Very different areas of work, you may say, and you are right. But it so happens that all of them were united by a common quest also of preventing and reducing distress relating to accidents. And as someone who had the good fortune of knowing all these three great men for at least some time and also working on the subject of accidents, I can certainly assert with confidence that the contribution all the three made in this context was very important.
Dinesh Mohan made a very remarkable contribution to reducing road accidents and to reduction of injuries sustained in such accidents. This was a matter of lifetime commitment for him and his contributions were both very valuable and multi-dimensional. Keeping in view the increasingly high toll of deaths and serious injuries associated with road accidents in India, one can only deeply regret that the important contributions of Dinesh Mohan and others like him have not been implemented properly. His work relates as much to reducing the seriousness of injury in the case of an accident as to overall changes in road transport sector that would bring, apart from other benefits, better road safety and better safety for commuters and pedestrians.
In the wider context, his work will be remembered also for bringing in with more emphasis also the concerns of pedestrians and those from weaker sections who have found road safety conditions becoming more and more precarious for them in most parts of India. In addition he also contributed to other sectors of safety including train safety, safety relating to firecrackers such as those used much on festivals like Deepawali, as well as safety relating to farm implements like threshers.
Rajkumar Keswani made a great contribution to journalism with his exposes of the possibilities of a very grave accident in the Union Carbide insecticide plant in Bhopal much before the accident took place in 1984. If only his warnings had been heeded , thousands of lives would have been saved and even more people would have been spared the endless agony of the poisonous gas related long-lingering impacts, continuing into the next generations. In fact it was more during my follow-up visits to poison gas affected colonies in Bhopal ( as compared to my first visit soon after the tragedy) that I realized the wider and longer lasting impacts in their entire tragic dimensions.
Rajkumar Keswani not just made his famous expose before the tragedy, but his greatness came out even more vividly in his endless persistence for securing justice for gas victims, including making available much valuable documentation that could help the cause of victims. He also spoke fearlessly against the continuing injustice to victims, and the corruption involved in this.
Sunderlal Bahuguna fought a very long struggle against the Tehri Dam Project and it was in the course of this struggle, with the highlighting of this issue and expert groups being constituted on this issue, that a new urgency was imparted to the various issues relating to the safety of not just this dam , but also to several other high-risk dams being constructed, particularly in the Himalayan region. As is well recognized, dam related accidents can be very costly and in the middle of his many-sided several achievements this important contribution of Bahuguna to highlighting questions of dam safety should not be forgotten. In fact on the same day ( May 21) that Bahuguna died, a serious accident took place at a hydro project site in Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh when the wall of an under-construction tunnel collapsed, resulting in the reported death of at least four workers.
All the three distinguished persons mentioned here were persons of many-sided talents and achievements, but were united by their quest for reducing accident related distress in their own ways. The fact that Covid played some role in the death of all three of them has its own irony, as there is at least an often-expressed possibility that the origin of Covid also may be related to a terrible lab accident. Of course the jury is still out on this, its origin may have related to natural transmission processes or to a terrible lab accident, but the fact that such a possibility has been increasingly mentioned is yet another reminder of the great need of reducing accidents and the distress caused by them in the context of many different kinds of accidents.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine and Planet in Peril.