As many as 44 lives were snuffed out when an overloaded bus rolled down a nullah in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu district on Thursday. The mishap comes barely two months after 12 persons were killed when a bus on its way from Pathankot to Dalhousie had fallen into a gorge near the Naini Khud area in Chamba district. In September last year, about 60 persons had died after an overcrowded roadways bus plunged into a ravine near Shanivarapet village in Telangana. At least 30 passengers were drowned when a speeding private bus had plunged into a canal in Karnataka’s Mandya district in November 2018.
Every major bus mishap hits the headlines, triggering a public outrage for a day or two before the dust inevitably settles. Inquiries are conducted, families of the victims receive compensation, a couple of officials are suspended for dereliction of duty, but on the whole, things remain the same on the ground. Overloading, speeding and driver fatigue are identified as the key reasons for bus accidents, but little is done to prevent their recurrence. Though human error is the prime culprit more often than not, the need for safer road infrastructure, proper signage for motorists, and a robust public transport system can’t be overemphasised. Strict law enforcement and zero tolerance to negligence also have to be ensured at all costs.
Unfortunately, our politicos consider road safety an insignificant issue, even though about 1.5 lakh casualties take place every year in mishaps across the country. According to a report of the World Health Organisation, road traffic continues to represent a major development issue, a public health problem and a leading cause of death and injury around the world, with the majority of the fatalities occurring in developing countries. In 2015, India had signed the Brasilia declaration, committing itself to reducing the number of road accidents and deaths to half by 2020. The target, however, seems to be a bridge too far unless this vital issue of public concern is accorded due priority and tackled proactively.