Fix the Crash Econ­omy

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Piyush Te­wari

On April 17, a bus car­ry­ing 40 pas­sen­gers plunged into a gorge in Odisha, killing at least 25 peo­ple and in­jur­ing over 11. This comes just weeks af­ter a hor­rific in­ci­dent in Fe­bru­ary, when a bus crashed into a river in Gu­jarat, killing 41 peo­ple. Nei­ther in­ci­dent made news be­yond the day of the crash as such in­ci­dents have be­come a com­mon oc­cur­rence in our coun­try.

An anal­y­sis by SaveLIFE Foun­da­tion re­veals that ev­ery year, there are more than 500 mass casualty road crashes in In­dia, in which thou­sands per­ish. While the statistics of deaths and in­juries are alarm­ing, it’s worth un­der­stand­ing the eco­nomic im­pact of road crashes on the In­dian econ­omy. And not just be­cause the ma­jor­ity age group af­fected by road crashes here is also the most eco­nom­i­cally pro­duc­tive age group: the 15 to 45 age group.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 Plan­ning Com­mis­sion re­port, road crashes lead to an an­nual eco­nomic loss equiv­a­lent to 3% of In­dia’s GDP. At 2015-16 GDP fig­ures, this amounts to a mas­sive loss of .₹ 4 lakh crore each year. This is a mam­moth fig­ure, but hardly sur­pris­ing given that an­nu­ally road crashes not just kill 1.4 lakh peo­ple and maim three times more, they also cause sig­nif­i­cant prop­erty losses, in­fras­truc­ture dam­age and pose a huge bur­den on al­ready stretched health­care, po­lice and ju­di­cial sys­tems, and loss of liveli­hood for thou­sands of fam­i­lies.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Road As­sess­ment Pro­gramme (iRAP), in terms of eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity alone, ev­ery road crash death in In­dia costs the coun­try 70 times the GDP per capita, and ev­ery se­ri­ous in­jury costs 17 times the GDP per capita. At 2014-15 fig­ures of GDP per capita pub­lished by the World Bank, the to­tal loss of eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity stands at over $22 bil­lion, or .₹ 1.5 lakh crore, each year.

So, how far can an amount equal to 3% of GDP take us? .₹ 4 lakh crore equals one-fifth of the to­tal bud­get al­lo­cated for 2016-17. Iron­i­cally, this amount is seven times the en­tire bud­get of the min­istry of road trans­port and high­ways, and 11 times that of the min­istry of health and fam­ily wel­fare. The amount would be more than suf­fi­cient for fund­ing sev­eral cru­cial min­istries in the gov­ern­ment. Two of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s most am­bi­tious schemes — the Swachh Bharat Ab­hiyan, to fund which a new cess has been in­tro­duced, and the100 Smart Cities Mis­sion — can to­gether be funded 20 times over each year for .₹ 4 lakh crore. The fig­ure is also five times the an­nual bud­get for In­dia’s planned food se­cu­rity pro­gramme, which, ac­cord­ing to the min­istry of con­sumer af­fairs, food and public dis­tri­bu­tion, stands de­layed due to bud­getary con­straints, forc­ing mil­lions to go hun­gry.

It is a no-brainer that com­pre­hensi- vely ad­dress­ing road crashes will not only pre­vent the unimag­in­able emo­tional trauma that lakhs of fam­i­lies must suf­fer each year, but it will also lead to sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic ben­e­fits as out­lined. While suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have con­tin­ued to fo­cus on poverty al­le­vi­a­tion as a key agenda item, they have more or less been obliv­i­ous to the fact that road crashes di­rectly con­trib­ute to poverty in In­dia each day by snatch­ing away bread­win­ners from poor fam­i­lies and push­ing them into dire cir­cum­stances in­stantly. Con­trol­ling the prob­lem will help In­dia ad­dress this cru­cial devel­op­ment in­di­ca­tor as well. The good news is that some head­way has been made to­wards find­ing a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem. The re­cently is­sued gov­ern­ment guide­lines, pro­vided force of law by the Supreme Court through a re­cent judg­ment, will by it­self save thou­sands of lives each year, oth­er­wise lost due to de­layed emer­gency care. But there will be a more last­ing ef­fect if the over­all frame­work in which road safety can be sus­tained.

From over­haul­ing the sys­tem that is­sues driv­ing li­cences to poorly trained driv­ers, to ad­dress­ing cor­rup­tion and ca­pac­ity con­straints in en­force­ment, to en­sur­ing min­i­mum safety stan­dards in road en­gi­neer­ing and ve­hi­cle de­sign, to en­abling con­sis­tent data col­lec­tion na­tion­wide — th­ese are all ur­gently needed re­forms.

The gov­ern­ment has taken a step for­ward by draft­ing a com­pre­hen­sive Road Safety Bill but has been un­able to in­tro­duce it in Par­lia­ment so far. Why the hold-up? With the sec­ond part of the Bud­get ses­sion of Par­lia­ment un­der­way, per­haps the con­ver­sa­tion on In­dian econ­omy and our Bud­get should in­clude the in­tro­duc­tion and pas­sage of the Road Safety Bill. This way, the long road to im­ple­men­ta­tion of such a re­form can be­gin sooner than later.

The writer is CEO of SaveLIFE Foun­da­tion, a non-profit com­mit­ted to im­prov­ing road safety

Only if it was that simple

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