One way of gauging the quality of governance in any nation or state is from the number of unnatural deaths that take place. The long-term and chronic neglect of the health system in many countries was shown-up by the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost all nations, including the ‘developed’ ones, lacked the infrastructure, protocols and organisational set-up to deal with the once in a century type crises. This not only highlighted the lack of preparation but also the misplaced priorities in many cases.
This is just a very striking example of what poor governance can do. In India, however, statistics reveal the neglect in numerous critical areas, one of which is road safety. The accident that took place in Chakrata on Sunday, for instance, was not a freak incident. It was the consequence of a chain of negligence that begins right from the top. While it is true that efforts are on to improve India’s road connectivity in terms of capacity and quality, other very necessary elements are totally ignored. Engineering, Enforcement and Education are considered the essential 3 ‘E’s of road safety. Only the first is currently getting some attention and merely as a Union Government initiative.
What is the point of building expressways if all they do is encourage irresponsible people to drive at breakneck speeds? The US, for instance, has many times the number of vehicles than India, but its accident and fatality rates are much less. This is because there is a far more stringent driving culture, stricter laws and enforcement. In contrast, in India, enforcement is done in fits and starts. People, including youngsters without DLs, are allowed in their normal lives to drive around on two-wheelers without helmets, which becomes a habit. Then suddenly, there is strict enforcement for a couple of weeks, to become comatose again. By failing to inculcate this essential practice as second-nature, the police fall far behind in enforcing other, even more important rules – such as those that protect little children from being ferried around in the most dangerous ways.
It is only logical that, under such conditions, utterly shocking incidents will continue to not only take place, but increase in number as vehicle ownership rises. Given that the police are hard put to even manage flow of traffic in most cities of India, including Dehradun, they require greater allocation of resources and manpower. This will only happen if there is the political will to do so. It makes sense to cut dead-end government jobs, but increasing the police to citizen ratio would be one of the smarter election promises to make right now.