oppn parties Amending Motor Vehicle Act is Fine But What About Pedestrians and Hawkers?

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Amending Motor Vehicle Act is Fine But What About Pedestrians and Hawkers?

By Sunil Garodia

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator. Writes for a number of publications.
With 20.74 deaths per 100000 people, India was placed 64th in the WHO list of road accident deaths worldwide. The list was topped by Iran, followed by Iraq and Venezuela. African nations mainly made the list ahead of India, with Pakistan and China following. But that was in 2014. With deaths in road accidents jumping up by 5% in 2015, leading to nearly 1.5 lakh people (or 400 every day) getting killed on Indian roads, one is sure India will move up when the 2015 list comes out. WHO has also found out that more people in the age group 15-29 years die in road accidents than even by suicide or HIV related causes, the next two major killers. It also found out that nearly half of road deaths involved pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. In its Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2015 WHO asked all countries to strengthen their road safety legislation.

India, for one, has heeded this advice. The union cabinet has approved changes in law that will make violation of traffic safety rules more stringent by introducing hefty fines (five to ten times of that existing now), new rules and suspension and cancelling of driving licences and vehicle permits for repeated offences.

While the enhancement of fines as deterrent is a welcome move, what is actually needed is effective policing. With better monitoring through cameras installed at street crossings and random checks on roads, violators must be fined on the spot. With a few cases coming to notice of parents allowing juveniles to drive vehicles without licences, the provision to fine and/or jail parents and cancel the vehicle registration for this misdemeanor is sensible. At least now they will not pander to the whims of the apples of their eye and allow him/her to mow down people on the road. The decision to raise the fine for drunk driving five times from Rs 2000 to Rs 10000 is also welcome as it has been identified as one of the major causes of road accidents.

But the government has not done anything about pedestrians and cyclists, whom WHO identified as major causes of accidents. Political expediency has made pedestrian walkways (footpaths, as we call them) in major Indian towns and cities unwalkable as they are occupied by hawkers with their huge, permanent stalls. In Kolkata, despite the high court order for removing hawkers up to 100 metres from street crossings, nothing has been done. In fact, street crossings are the most accident prone zones as people often make a dash to the other side and most of them do not know what a zebra crossing is. It is here that the largest concentration of hawkers is found, compounding the problem. Allowing hawkers in this zone and forcing pedestrians to walk on the carriageway is a sure recipe for disaster. Similarly, penalizing pedestrians for jaywalking or spilling over to the carriageway when the footpaths are occupied by hawkers is unfair.

The government has decided that vehicle owners and drivers are the only culprits in road accidents. But the ground reality is different. Pedestrians, cyclists and the hawkers are equally, if not more, to be blamed. Unless a solution is found to the hawker menace and the pedestrian problem, India will not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal prescribed by WHO that has set a target of 50% reduction in road traffic deaths and injuries by 2020.