Friday, January 13, 2012

End the death on roads

It is the peculiar-and usually shameful nature of the Indian system that Supreme Court has to intervene and correct things that are terribly wrong and unforgivable. Two recall just three cases: by the 1990s, Delhi had become the most polluted city in the world. Nothing was being done to correct that even as bronchail illnesses among school children rose alarmingly. Enter Supreme Court with two verdicts. The first was to move all industrial units out of Delhi. The other was to order that all public transport vehicles must use CNG. It made a difference. Around the same time, the Supreme Court passed judgement on what is now famous as the Vishakha case. In this, the Court laid down clear guidelines to punish those who indulge in sexual harrassment at work places. You can't say that sexual harrassment has stopped as a result, just as you can't say that pollution has vanished. But thse have been historic interventions. A more recent one is the Supreme Court order to the CBI to 'actually' investigate the 2G scam. We are seeing the results.

Just yesterday, the Supreme Court added another feather to its list of historic interventions and judgements. A Bench upheld the three years prison term awarded to Alastair Pereira by the Mumbai High Court. In 2006, Pereira was drunk and driving a Toyota Corolla in the wee hours of the morning after a party when he mowed down a group of poor labourers who were sleeping on the pavement. Seven were killed. While upholding the verdict of the Mumbai High Court, the Supreme Court has categorically stated that even the 3 year prison term is very lenient. Hopefully, this will set a precedent, and spolit brats who think nothing of mowing down people after a night of drinks and fun will now know that they could face chin music in jail. If even a handful of such brats across India are sent behind bars for three years and their crimes and punishment well publicised, the message will go out loud and clear and many innocent lives could be spared as a result.

The number of fatalities in road accidents in India is truly shocking. Our apathy towards it is even more shocking. In 2011, about 1,50,000 people were killed in road accidents in India, the highest in the world. That wrks out to about 400 needless and avoidable deaths each day and about 17 deaths every hour. No civilised country or society in the world should be tolerating this. And, we Indians are blissfully apathetic to such shocking numbers. Nobody bothers about the 150,000 families that are devastated each year-much more than the total number of devastated families in more than 20 years of insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir. The number of vehicles in America is at least 10 times more than in India. And the number of miles travelled by an average vehicle in America is far, far higher than India. And yet, America has been reporting continuosly falling deaths from road accidents since the 1970s. Last year, less than 100 died on an average day in the USA because of road accidents. The figure for India was more than 410.

The fault lies not with the law but with us as citizens and human beings. We seem almost genetically unable to follow basic traffic rules. I have seen hundreds of instances where parents with kids in the car brazenly flout traffic rules, including jumping a red light and travelling on the wrong side of the road and telling their kids that it is OK.Obviously, the kid is going grow up as an Indian who has only contempt for traffic rules and traffic discipline. Virtually every journalist who breaks a traffic rule flashes his or her 'Press card' and tells the traffic cop to be left off.

I guess, in this case at least, the only language that we seem to understand is the language of the Danda. So here is wishing more Danda from the Supreme Court and good luck to Alastair Pereira who will start his three year jail term.


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