The tragic accident in which 11 students were killed on Thursday near Peer Ki Gali has shocked us beyond words. People from all walks of life expressed their grief. Governor Satya Pal Malik paying sympathies to the bereaved family, announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 5 lakh each to the next of the kin of the deceased.
The above incident is not a strange or a stray incident in J&K; this trend could be seen all over the region, especially in the mountainous belt. A casual look across the geographic map will reveal that the Chenab region is not the only region with sharp mountain features and jagged roads. However, in the rest of world, accidents as those happen often in Ramban area are more of an exception, rather than a regular recurrence.
A cursory look at the data and statistics of road accidents in our region will explain where the problems are and who should be blamed. According to official data, there has been a sharp increase in road accidents every year, with a corresponding increase in fatalities. At present around from 800-1000 people are killed in road accidents in the state every year.
There is a substantial jump and a constant increase in road accidents and resulting fatalities in the last decade. If the numbers are available for the last two years, they will reveal the same trend as well. What this means is, as far the road accidents are concerned, we have not learnt our lessons, or worse, we are apathetic to the nature and magnitude of this problem.
In India, 13 people die every hour in road accidents; excluding the economic burden on the family and the disability caused, the cost of these accidents alone account to seven lakh crores every year; and more importantly, 85 percent of the victims are men in the age group 20-50 years, the bread-winners for their families.
If the issue is so serious, why have we not given adequate importance? Why have we let the numbers grow from in the last ten years?
There are many factors that are held responsible for increasing road mishaps in the state. One of the most cited reasons for road accidents is large number of vehicles that ply on roads. It is a fact that there has been a substantial growth in vehicles, leading to more accidents and more deaths. But this argument may not hold in many other areas where substantial care has reduced the damage. However, on the road accidents and the subsequent deaths, we seem to have ignored what the numbers tell, and the family pain it perhaps do not reveal.
While accidents are a part of our lives and death keeps no calendar, the absence of a vision with every activity of public interest makes us more vulnerable and more prone to accidents and tragedies. Around this time of the year traffic rush to all tourist destinations increases manifold and Mughal Road is no exception. Near every tourist place in Kashmir valley, hundreds of vehicles on roads can be spotted around this time of the year. The famous picnic spots witness heavy rush during summers. It has also been observed that there is hardly any special arrangement from traffic authorities near these areas. Filled with enthusiasm and adventure, the youth often break rules by driving either too fast or doing tricks and stunts on roads. In any case it is fraught with danger. We are not going by what happened in the recent tragedies, but we can clearly see where the problems lie.
The roads leading to the most visited getaways in Kashmir are also in bad shape. For instance to reach Pahalgam, one of the most visited places in Kashmir, the Islamabad-Aishmuqam-Pahalgam route is better to ply on but Bijbehara-Sallar-Pahalgam is a preferred option because it saves time. To save time, people sometimes choose shortcuts, even if the roads pose higher risks. Again, nothing is being done to prevent the travellers take routes that can be dangerous. A stretch of a few kilometres remains in a sorry state of affairs compounding the risk of accidents.
The apathy of the forest department is all too evident from the fact that they have objection to a proposal which could avoid such accidents. Our visionless politicians too prefer announcing relief packages to kins of deceased and to injured rather than utilizing these resources to have a better and accident-proof system in place. Our police machinery is also neck-deep in the menacing ocean of corruption to impose law and order.
Road safety has been a disaster drive in the state. People have become so defiant that they consider their own safety and those of their loved ones as a trifling matter. The traffic authorities have not met any success despite having conducted the safety programmes for years now. On the contrary, at many places traffic cops have been alleged as encouraging the rules violation. It's an irony that law-enforcers have turned into law-breakers. Irresponsible people grease their palms in broad daylight, and it has the larger effect on all of us.
The government and the civil society need to wake up and pay heed to problems that stare us in our face. How many deaths should we witness to wake us up?