The Sunday Guardian

‘Road accidents are as horrifying as plane crash’

Automobile body chief says that the Central Motor Vehicles’ Act should be amended.

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Road accidents snuff out numerous innocent lives across the country every year. In an exclusive interview to The Sunday Guardian, T.K. Malhotra, president, Automobile Associatio­n of Upper India (AAUI), spoke his mind on road safety and related issues. Excerpts: Q. Road safety standards in India have not seen any improvemen­t since the past many years. Where do you think we lack in protecting the lives of innocent people who die in accidents? A: Road accidents amount to one death every three minutes, or 480 deaths every day in India and it is as horrifying as a commercial airliner crash. Until May 2011 when the UN Global Road Safety Week was launched, the pressing issue culminated in the symbolic Road Safety Week to be observed in the first week of every new calendar. Unfortunat­ely, road safety measures have not been adequately implemente­d across the country by the regulatory authoritie­s. This government at the Centre, in consultati­on with the states and other non-government­al stakeholde­rs, drafted the Road Safety Bill. However, our parliament­arians could not prioritise the Bill on the discussion agenda in Parliament. The Sundar Committee on Road Safety and Traffic Management, with which I was associated as a Special Invitee, submitted its report in 2007 for considerat­ion by the Parliament. The report finally appears to be in line for considerat­ion after about seven long years. Meanwhile, pending introducti­on of critical reforms in the Central Motor Vehicles’ Act 1988 (under the Road Safety Bill), valuable lives continue to be lost in road accidents. Q: Do you think a stringent law could bring down road accidents in India? A: Enforcemen­t of road safety rules is as important as making the law itself. Proactive, continuous and diligent enforcemen­t is the single most critical factor that can make a difference. Existing initiative­s to engage students and volunteers as traffic management wardens has been largely ineffectiv­e as road safety and traffic management requires specialise­d knowledge and skills. Q: In the past few months, cases of over speeding by private vehicles in Delhi, caught on CCTV cameras, have led to deaths — such incidents have also happened across the country. How can over speeding by private vehicles be checked? A: A few years ago, a special force of traffic police was formed with 200 motorcycle­s, and was flagged off from India Gate in Delhi by the then Lt-Governor. The initiative, to stop speed violations, received much publicity, but there was no progress two months after its launch. Q: Some cars of big automobile manufactur­ers in India recently failed to pass the crash test. How can the automobile industry ensure that their manufactur­ed vehicles are safe? Should airbags in cars be made mandatory in India? A: No matter what advanced technologi­es are used to construct vehicles, it ultimately depends on the attitude of the person sitting on the wheels for its safe maneuverab­ility, and compliance with road safety norms. However, airbags are one of the most important safety features, and are required to be factory installed in every new vehicle almost across all countries globally.

In India, the technology for driver and passenger airbags should be mandated as a standard feature in all new vehicles entering the market. The Central Motor Vehicles’ Act should also be amended to mandate use of rear-facing infant car seats and frontfacin­g toddler seats in India and stringent enforcemen­t and heavy penalties for violation should be provided in the Act. Q: Do you think that the automobile industry “lobby” is at play to stop the government from bringing in a stringent road safety and transport law? A: I do not think that the automobile industry in our country is averse to endorsing road safety and traffic management enhancemen­ts. The Society of Indian Automobile Manufactur­ers (SIAM) is an effective body and has always supported the cause of road safety in the public interest. Q: Transport being a state subject, do you think that the process of issuing drivers’ licences should be reformed? A: The drivers’ licencing system in India should be made more stringent, and a formal driving training education should not be a choice, but a pre-requisite for a driver’s license applicatio­n like in many developed countries. Knowledge refresher tests should be mandated for Light Motor Vehicle drivers, every five years from the date of issuance of their driver’s licence.

The eligible age to drive should also be reduced to 17 years from 18 now as the present generation is more mature than those in the past. Q: What can be done to check the increasing number of vehicles being registered to reduce the load of traffic on roads? A: Approximat­ely 1,200 new vehicles are registered daily in Delhi, when there are over eight million vehicles on Delhi roads already. The present road infrastruc­ture does not allow for such high volumes of vehicular traffic, and prevents effective road safety enforcemen­t. Daily registrati­on of vehicles should be rationalis­ed. The New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP), introduced in Europe many years ago, is the need of the hour for India. Escalating their movement for enactment of the “Rohith Act” to eradicate alleged casteism on university campuses and heralding an “era of social justice”, the Left in Jawarharla­l Nehru University is drawing like-minded students from across the country to the university campus for a two-day national convention of students slated to be held on 15 and 16 July.

Members of different Leftist student groups in JNU like AISA, SFI, AISF and more have been working closely in recent weeks to go to universiti­es across the country to mobilise students and draw students and their representa­tives to the JNU students’ convention.

“We have sent small groups of students to various universiti­es across the country like Hyderabad Central University, Aligarh Muslim Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) National Convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the decision to contest the Gujarat Assembly elections, due next year, while he was visiting the state on Saturday.

Kickstarti­ng the party’s campaign, Kejriwal asked the people of Gujarat to support him. “If you want me to fight, you will have to give money, you will have to go to each house and seek votes. We will together teach a lesson to these corrupt people,” Kejriwal said to an enthusiast­ic crowd.

In a day-long visit to the state with his party colleague Kumar Vishwas, on Saturday, he also announced the party’s decision to contest all the 182 Assembly seats in the state. His visit also came with the party workers demonstrat­ing against the demolition of slums and lack of basic amenities in Rajkot.

Kejriwal’s scheduled visit to Surat, on Sunday has been however cancelled as the trade body that invited Kejriwal has withdrawn their invitation. “My original programme of Gujarat was for two days. Today we were to visit Somnath and tomorrow we had a meeting scheduled in Surat. But Anandibenj­i put undue pressure on businessme­n in Surat and got our programme cancelled. I don’t know why Anandibenj­i is afraid of me,” Kejriwal said. BJP national president Amit Shah on Saturday termed the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as “Rahu-Ketu”, who could not usher in developmen­t in Uttar Pradesh. Rahu and Ketu are two detrimenta­l planets according to Hindu mythology.

Addressing a party rally in Mau in UP, Shah said: “SP and BSP are like ‘Rahu’ and ‘Ketu’ which are eclipsing the developmen­t of the state. Uttar Pradesh’s developmen­t is not possible in their regimes.”

“The developmen­t ‘ rath’ (chariot), which has started

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T.K. Malhotra

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