Making Safety the First Priority
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

Making Safety the First Priority

By Dr. K. Javeen Nayeem, MD

The recent ghastly bus accident in Mandya District which took a toll of thirty lives has jolted people’s sensibilities with its magnitude. But the question that arises here is whether it has even slightly succeeded in awakening the collective conscience of our politicians and bureaucrats who seem to have a unique ability of taking all such tragedies in their stride. What makes the whole scenario disgusting is the fact that although we keep seeing such macabre but largely preventable accidents on our roads and waterways from time to time they do not evoke any long-term preventive action from the authorities.

The first thing that our politicians do after every such accident is to put on fake sad faces when they visit the site and mouth platitudes that  they know will paint them in the best light in the media the next day. The second thing they do is to announce compensation to the kith and kin of the deceased and injured which will naturally have the immediate effect of dousing the fire of rage and indignation in their hearts. The third thing they do is to proclaim that the guilty will be punished and the strictest measures will be implemented to prevent all such mishaps in the future. The fourth and final thing they do is to completely forget the whole sad episode and get back to their ‘business’ which only does them much good!

We all know that most accidents take place because of the rash or negligent acts of people. It may be a pedestrian who jaywalks and crosses the road carelessly or a driver who throws caution to the winds while driving and decides to push the vehicle he or she drives beyond the limits of safety. And, in the case of accidents involving our public transport the additional culpable act of not following rules in a bid to make more money comes in. This results in not-so-roadworthy or clearly over-loaded vehicles plying on our roads. This has now sadly become the rule than an exception.

It is common knowledge that a third of the private buses running across the length and breadth of our country are without permits. It is also a common practice among bus operators to run ‘ghost’ buses on many routes. If you do not know what a ghost bus is, let me tell you that it is not a bus that transports ghosts! It is a bus that transports living people like any other bus but has a ‘clone’ with the same registration number. So for the price of paying the necessary taxes and permit fee for one bus, the operator runs and earns money from two buses. The trick lies only in keeping the clones away from each other by perfect timing and seeing that no one sees them together!

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Looking at the speed with which private buses pass other vehicles on our roads I am sure that the mandatory speed governors in every one of them have been bypassed. If you just take a look at the kind of vehicles that are used to transport human beings in the interior areas of our country you will be shocked at how such activities can take place right under the noses of authorities who are paid for and  entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding human life. You will see people herded like cattle into buses, tempos, autorickshaws and even in vehicles meant to carry only cargo.

And, this kind of transportation is not for an occasional event like a village fair or festival but it is the daily routine day in and day out. You don’t have to go far to see such appallingly illegal and unsafe activities. A drive along the short stretch of State Highway between Mandya and Maddur, either in the morning or in the evening will show you how women working in factories are transported every working day.

It is a different matter that they all seem so cheerful and happy, merrily chatting with their friends while dipping into the tiffin carriers delicately balanced on their laps. They also seem to be completely unaware of the fact that their overloaded modes of transport can transport them far beyond their intended destinations if there is the slightest mechanical or human failure.

In many places where there are no bridges, people who have to cross a river are completely at the mercy of boatmen who  ferry them in dangerously overloaded boats or in leaky coracles with no one to oversee if what they are doing is safe or not. It is only because of such a situation that a terrible boat tragedy took place in Shivamogga District two years ago, claiming twelve lives.

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The saddest irony is that the biggest culprits behind all such accidents are undoubtedly the officials who for a regular fee allow every kind of illegal activity which they are supposed to prevent. Blaming the government and the transport operators alone is pointless as people too seem to be completely unconcerned about their own safety. Unless people firmly refuse to be conveyed in unsafe modes of transport nothing can change for the better. As we see now, people do not mind travelling on the rooftops of buses or in vehicles meant for carrying goods as long as they reach their destinations as early as possible at the lowest cost. Parents do not seem to mind sending their children to school in overflowing vans and autos. Every now and then we see our Police authorities coming up with restrictions but they are never implemented beyond a week. That is why we continue to see in every one of our towns and cities, dozens of school children being crammed into autos and literally hanging out of them. Their parents know that a topple or a brush with a passing vehicle can mean a terrible tragedy for their most loved ones but they never think of paying a little more to the drivers and insisting on restricting the numbers.

I feel that expecting the authorities alone to do their jobs well is simply not enough in our country. That will never happen until we ourselves wake up from our slumber of insensitivity and refuse to be a part of any arrangement that makes our lives and the lives of our loved ones unsafe!

e-mail: [email protected]

November 30, 2018

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