DEATH BY POTHOLE
Fines should be slapped on individuals, not agencies
Fifteen thousand people lost their lives due to potholes from 2013 to 2017 and the condition of roads in India continue to pose grave risks to pedestrians and motorists. That’s the ugly reality in the country where life is notoriously cheap and basic amenities like good roads are still a way off. While the Centre and states didn’t find the death toll intolerable, — evident from lack of action on the ground — the Supreme Court has found it unacceptable that “such a large number of deaths takes place on roads due to potholes”, “probably more than those killed at the border or by terrorists”. The apex court’s recommendation that Rs 5 lakh to be paid to the victim by the road-owning agency, if implemented, will not only bring succour to the bereaved family members of the deceased, but also enforce some amount of accountability in a system where corruption thrives. However, it may not be enough to just hold authorities such as the municipal corporations, the National Highways Authority of India, or the state road departments. An institution is faceless and the system of fines as envisaged by the SC, may not be effective in bringing the real culprits to book. Hence, the fine should be levied on road contractors and the employees from the government agency entrusted with finalising the tender process and overseeing the road-laying/ maintenance work. Singling out the perpetrators, shaming and fining them for dereliction of duty will bring about a radical change. In civic bodies across the country, the politician-contractor nexus is too well-known to bear repetition here. The same set of contractors who grease the palms of authorities get plum assignments even though their work is extremely shoddy. But with the system of fines, this unholy linkage can be ruptured. Political parties need to demonstrate their will to clean up the system.