The sad death of former Tata group chairman Cyrus Mistry in a road crash in Maharashtra on September 4 should create more awareness about the need for road safety. It is for the first time that such a high profile corporate figure has met with a road crash in recent years. This is mainly because corporates travel more by air than road. Politicians comparatively die in larger numbers on the road as they also travel widely on roads because of the nature of their work. Last month high profile politician Vinayak Mete was killed on the Pune Mumbai expressway. The common factor in the two deaths was speeding on highways.
Mete’s car was being driven by his driver who was trying to overtake another vehicle. The car has been involved in speeding in numerous cases in the past.. He had suddenly got a message from the chief minister that an urgent meeting had b een called on reservations for Marathas Mete was a popular leader in the community and this led to allegations that the death could be a murder. But this has been ruled out.
Both Mistry and Mete were in the back seat and were not wearing seat belts, Mete had more need to be careful because he was travelling at night unlike Mistry who was travelling during the day .
Over the years technology has generally made cars safer for occupants with all sorts of devices This has made drivers more reckless. The main victims are the poor, pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists. But there are times when the safety equipment is not safe for the occupants in case of speeding.
In both the crashes, the chief minister has ordered a detailed police inquiry which is good but why are such inquiries not ordered in case of ordinary mortals. In both the cases there is little scope for doubt. Actually, more detailed inquiries should be ordered and held when the poor are killed by the rich because the moneyed classes can easily manage to manipulate records, by the police and other investigating agencies.
Mr Nitin Gadkari, transport minister, is mightily pleased with his performance as a highway builder. There is always a broad smile when he talks about his favourite subject, he enjoys talking about how he is reducing travel time between Delhi to Jaipur, Lucknow, Patna and so on.
He is obsessed with increasing speed even while more developed countries are recognising that safety is far more important.
Unfortunately, much of the media is so utterly pliant, some would say it is bought over, that one rarely hears any voice of sanity, protest. So it was a real pleasant surprise to find that the Hitavada, the old newspaper from Gadkari’s home town Nagpur, has spoken some truth.
About the samriddhi expressway beween Nagpur and Mumbai it has pointed out the utter desolation, utter lack of greenery, tree cover at least on the stretch in Nagpur district itself. It is elevated so even if trees are built alongside, there is little hope of shade and visual relief.
It is absolutely right when it talks of the phenomenon of road hypnosis. Such straight, soulless highways induce speed and a hypnosis among drivers, thoroughly disorienting themselves, all this is an absolute recipe for disaster.
That apart much of our political class and bureaucracy has no credibility whatsoever when it comes to public transport . all that they are obsessed with it serving the interests of motorists and the cement and road lobby.
The main daily problem for millions of citizens is not travel on highways but something so simple as travelling between their home or workplace to the railway or bus station.
For decades they have thoroughly neglected these basic, simple issues. They have started talking about this connectivity only because of the metro because it has become a status symbol for them. But even here the record is miserable in most cities where the metro is running for years.
In the chief minister’s home town thane itself travel has become miserable with long waits at the bus station and this after he held the urban development portfolios in the last few years.
The cult of the speed has been promoted over the years by the automobile lobby, irresponsible and poorly educated film stars apart from politicians. Mr Gadkari himself met with a serious road accident some years which confined him to bed for months. But most people think an accident is something which happens to others.
Vidyadar Date is senior journalist and author of book on the democratisation of transport