STATUS OF POTHOLE DEATHS IN INDIA: MORE DEATH RATE THAN TERROR
We are living in a dynamic society which is evolving constantly. With every passing day the necessity of addressing various social and legal issues is also rising. One such issue is potholes in roads in our country which often gets ignored and considered as a matter of less importance in our legal system. The Indian laws have well developed and are amended when it is required for the welfare of the citizens, but Indian society still lacking behind in respect of maintenance of our infrastructures and in respect of this the victims experience more consequences than in any terror attack.
POSITION IN INDIA
India has sent a lunar mission to the moon. We are planning to send humans into space by 2022. But no matter how much we achieve in the space, we have yet not worked on our roads.
Mumbai, which can be easily called it a pothole capital of India. Every year people die of potholes after the monsoon deluge. Every time there’s a pothole death in the city. According to RTI, BMC has spent a total of Rs. 15.71 crore to fill 8879 potholes in Mumbai from June 2017 to July 2019, which means that the BMC spent Rs. 17,693 to fix one pothole. But till now the question arises why the potholes are still visible then? The ground reality is too ugly.
Mumbai tops the city when it comes to paying taxes. In 2018 Mumbai paid more than 3.52 lakh crore in taxes. Despite this, citizens are facing the brunt of bad roads. It is the financial capital of India and is one of India’s biggest cities. It is the same place where civic authorities tried to chop off a few trees in the Aarey colony at midnight. If authorities can do that, what’s the problem with fixing these potholes?
Bangalore is popularly known as the silicon valley of India. The way we see frogs coming out during the rains, we can see potholes during the rains in Bangalore and no where it seems like the silicon city.
Indian metro cities are same everywhere. According to government data, from 2014-2017, more than 9300 people died because of these potholes. It means more than 10 people lost their lives daily in 2017 due to our government’s apathy. This is just the government figure, in reality might be much higher. In the same year only 812 people died due to terrorism, which shows potholes are far more deadlier than terrorism. National security is important, but what about our security, the moment we hit the road.
POTHOLE INCIDENT IS THE MOST PRESSING CHALLENGE FACED BY THE VICTIMS
Over 9300 deaths, 25000 injured in 3 years due to potholes, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways provided figures of 2015, 2016 and 2017 and compiled data of persons killed due to potholes in road accidents. In 2018 , 2,015 pedestrians lost their lives due to potholes.
Maharashtra recorded a doubling of deaths at 726 every year on year — an evidence that road safety remains a casualty in India. The magnitude of the problem can be understood from the fact that terrorist activities claimed 803 lives According to data shared by states with the Centre, Uttar Pradesh logged most such deaths at 987.
Rohit Baluja, a road safety expert told The Times of India, “Until road-owning agencies were held accountable for the maintenance and booked for negligence, the menace of potholes won’t end.
PRESENT PERCEPTION AND LAW ON THE SUBJECT
The Indian Road congress has prescribed over 100 sets of guidelines to ensure standardised road construction, maintenance and management, including guidelines for repairing potholes. Though the challenging part is to implement it because of lack of unified statute or codified laws on road construction and maintenance which makes it nearly impossible to punish if the guidelines are not maintained accordingly.
Counting on the existing legislation for road safety rules and the Motor vehicles Act, still that do not contain any provisions which will ensure accountability of road authorities for defects in the engineering and maintenance of roads. Thankfully, the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which seeks to widen the Act, has attempted to address the issue of liability for road defects. For any road crash injury or death caused by defective road design and engineering, the designated authority responsible to construct and maintain the road is to be penalised with a sum capped at 1 lakh rupees. The Bill directs that safety standards should be prescribed by the central government.
What it is and What it ought to be.-
Still now the pothole accidents are considered to be civil liability where the victims are paid compensation and no strict liability is taken against the government departments for absolute disregard of public safety and criminal neglect in maintenance and construction of roads which is a clear and enough evident for taking actions. Unfortunately, road contractors and engineers is still not be held criminally liable for causing deaths and injuries, which organisations like the SaveLIFE Foundation have been demanding. The Engineers, contractors are now blaming the law and enforcement agencies of the transport department for allowing overloading vehicles for potholes on most of the roads. Now it’s time for the laws to broaden up to include such white colour culprits to be charged with culpable homicide under section 299 of IPC if potholes causes ‘death’. Also evoking Section 304-A, 268 and 283 of the IPC for their negligent behaviour in maintenance and disregard to public safety causing death or accident.
Prevention is better than cure, intervening at the right time will reduce the amount potholes forming and prevent bigger problems later. At the end of the day we need to be more serious and assertive because that innocent puddle or potholes might be hiding a nastier surprise.
*Nikita Kundu is a student at Indian Institute of Legal Studies.