Killer roads, callous govt

On May 20, the killer roads in Jammu and Kashmir consumed 17 more lives. The victims , who include some tourists,   were killed and 34 others injured when the Srinagar-bound bus they were travelling in rolled down a 400-feet deep gorge in Digdol area of Ramban district on the Jammu-Srinagar highway. J&K is facing a rising graph of road accidents. But as often mentioned in these columns, this is something that commands almost no attention of the administration in this godforsaken place. In the Ramban accident, for instance, the injured passengers squarely blamed driver’s negligence and the unfit vehicle for the tragedy. Who in the first place had allowed the unfit vehicle to ply on the difficult terrain? Was the driver holding a licence? Do the highway traffic police ever check fitness certificates of vehicles? These and many more questions remain unanswered. The Ramban accident occurred a month after the Supreme Court of India set up a three-member panel to monitor, among other things, implementation of road safety measures. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam had asked the government to make available better medical facilities on national highways and roads under state governments. But the J&K government seldom heeds such guidelines and recommendations, a fact endorsed by a prominent lawmaker and state secretary of CPI (M) M Y Tarigami who held “callousness of the administration” responsible for rising number of road accidents in the state. “A House Committee headed by me, following mounting number of accidents in Doda region and the Srinagar-Jammu highway, had submitted a detailed report before the government (two years ago), but unfortunately the same is gathering dust,” Tarigami said after the May 20 tragedy. “This is unfortunate and utter callousness on part of the state administration which owes an explanation on the latest fatal road accident.” The number of fatalities caused by road accidents is only rising by the day. Of course, there has been a phenomenal growth in the volume of traffic in recent years while the roads have not expanded commensurately in length and width. That however can’t be an alibi for government’s failure to minimize road accidents. Now when Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is busy ‘introspecting’ why his regime has lost the ‘support’ of the people, it’s advisable to spare some time for this neglected area. After all, more Kashmiris now die in road accidents than in the ongoing conflict, and merely conveying “solidarity and sympathy to the bereaved families” and “praying for peace to the departed souls” can’t be a panacea for the grave problem.