In India, one person dies in road accident in every four minutes. Lack of safety in road transport is evident from frequent accidents across the world, mostly in developing countries. The accident at Sonapur in Jaintia Hills claiming 29 lives reminded all the past tragedies occurred at the place. The landslide-prone area is notorious for road accidents. In 2012, 31 people died as the bus they were in was washed away by landslides. Following a lot of preventive measures including a tunnel checked landslides to a great extent in the area, but it remained accident prone. In January this year too, 10 people died in a similar mishap there.
The road accident death ratio in India, 16.6 in 1 lakh population per year, is lesser than China’s 18.8 but higher than the US’ 10.6. European countries fare much ahead in this respect with UK 2.9, Germany 4.3 and Netherlands 3.4. Even Pakistan fares better than India with 4.2 deaths in 1 lakh population. African countries are the worst with Libya topping the list with 73.4 and Libya following at a distance with 33.7 deaths. While roads remained the basic means of transport in most countries, people in the developed countries are increasingly taking to other means like trains and planes. Though accidents on these two means of transport are not rare and casualties are high in case of any, they are far too less compared to road mishaps.
Most people in India cannot afford planes, and train is a better option. With a gradual shifting of transport load from roads to rails will also ensure less carbon emission, noise pollution etc., besides curbing the accidents. India has enough raw materials like stones and iron for making a massive makeover of its transport network in favour of railways. Although stricter traffic norms and better roads also can check the accidents the scene will not change much unless the traffic is diverted to other ways. Any Tom Dick and Harry cannot take the wheels of a train, like in case of a public bus in India. Slightest attention diversion might lead to a major mishap on road, unlike on the rails. There are hundreds others engaged in ensuring safety of a train. If one system fails another will function. Let good sense prevail in the hill areas of North-east where there is constant opposition to railways in fear of influx of “outsiders”. Let the Modi government get success in its aim to connect all north-eastern capitals by broad gauge network by 2020.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on June 18, 2016)