India’s roads are the deadliest for pedestrians in the whole world. The latest government statistics reveal that the number of pedestrians killed on roads rose to 20,457 last year from 12,330 in 2014 – up by 66 percent – making India the most dangerous country globally for walkers.
Economically, pedestrians are the poorest among road users. They have no protection whatsoever making them sitting ducks for lawless drivers behind the wheels of cars, buses and trucks which crush them to death in broad daylight. Cyclists and two-wheeler users are nearly as vulnerable.
The total number of road deaths in 2017 is a staggering 1,47,913 – or a daily toll of 405 - although it is marginally lower than casualties in 2016 by 1.9 percent. Compared to India’s nealy1,50,000 deaths in traffic accidents annually, the yearly toll in the US is only 40,000 although it has many more vehicles, revealing how unsafe India is compared to America.
But the political class doesn’t seem to care as most of the victims are under-privileged Indians from the lowest strata of society. And nothing reveals official apathy and callousness more than the failure to pass the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill in both houses of parliament to beef up road safety by reining in the free-for-all.
Of course there is periodic chest-beating in the corridors of power. Not too long ago, Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport & Highways in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, summed up the situation leaving everyone stunned.
“Road accidents kill more Indians than terrorism or left wing extremism which are usually cited as the biggest threats to the nation’s security – or epidemics”, Gadkari said with a straight face. And added: “More people have died in road accidents than in all the wars India has fought since 1947.”
Since independence India has fought five wars – four with Pakistan and one with China - with 10,253 troops officially killed in action. In comparison, 15 times more Indians are killed each year in road accidents!
Gadkari’s admission speaks volumes. According to him, the traffic system in the country needed to be overhauled because the existing road infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the phenomenal increase in the volume of vehicles. The minister claims that his priority is more people from road accidents, than to build more roads.
The economic loss from traffic accidents has been calculated close to 3 percent of the country’s GDP, or $8.2 billion every year. According to Gadkari, 30 percent of the driving licenses are bogus and traffic regulating bodies are dens of bribery and corruption.
Recently the Modi government announced that $1.65 billion will be spent on fixing 726 “black spots”, or terribly accident-prone stretches of road across the nation. Shockingly, a number of popular cars have miserably failed crash tests by London-based Global New Car Assessment Program.
Criticizing the inordinate delay in passing the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, The Times of India remarked: “Opposition parties have concerns over certain provisions in it, but the government must find a way to break the stalemate. The senseless deaths call for a strong legislative response and placing road safety above politicking is the need of the hour.”