One of the recent road mishaps that alarmed the public in Jammu and Kashmir was when a mini-bus, commonly known as Matador, skidded off the road and plunged into the 250 feet deep gorge, killing 35 passengers and injuring 17, at Thakrie area of Keshwan in Kishtwar district. As per the reports, on July 1, the mini-bus was on its way from Keshwan to Kishwar when the driver lost control on the steering while making a sharp curve on the serpentine road. The tragic episode has brought to spotlight the poor conditions of roads, lack of proper infrastructure, over-speeding and the flouted laws in the state.
As per the reports, the mini-bus was overloaded with 52 passengers while the seating capacity was only for 25 passengers. While PM Narendra Modi has expressed his grief on social media sites, in his tenure of last 5 years, very less has been done by the BJP-led central government to regulate the road mishaps. This is not an isolated incident. On June 27, eleven students including 9 girls died when a mini-bus, carrying students on an excursion, fell into the deep gorge in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir.
The unprecedented escalation in the road accidents has left the residents in shock. The people believe that overloading of public transport, over-speeding and bad roads with uneven surface have led to these accidents. As per the data accessed by NewsClick, in 2018 alone, 984 people have been killed in 5,978 road accidents. The records maintained by the J&K Traffic Police revealed that around 14,407 civilians were killed in 77,786 road accidents in 13 years from 2004 to June 2017, including 1,07,622 injured.
Road Safety Bill Futile?
In the backdrop of increasing road accidents, JK government had introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Road Safety Council Act last year. The Act provided for the constitution of State Road Safety Council to ensure and regulate road safety across the state. However, no change has been seen on the ground.
A resident of Kishtwar, requesting anonymity said, “I am not aware of this Act as I have seen no change. To make money, bus drivers and conductors overload the buses with passengers defying the seat capacity. There is no one to keep a check on them or to regulate them. They over-speed and you can see passengers also sitting on the roof of the mini-bus. There are no strict rules and regulations that’s why this is happening. Even if the drivers are caught by the traffic police, a little bribe settles everything.”
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Bitta Sheikh, Secretary, Red Cross, Kishtwar district, who rescued the victims said, “The condition of the roads is bad, and the situation is aggravated by the drivers’ negligence.”
Free hand to Private Operators
As per the data gathered by Red Cross, 4 Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) buses run in the Kishtwar district while 70 private mini buses (matadors) and 160 carousel private buses are plying on the road.
Sheikh said, “On paper, they have shown 14 government buses of which only 4 run in Kishtwar. We have no clue of the existence of the other buses.”
Lawyer and resident from Kishtwar, Muzaffar Zubair said, “First and foremost, the road conditions are deplorable – there are potholes. Second, majority of the vehicles plying on these roads are by private operators and there is no check by the authorities. These private operators have a sort of a monopoly on the roads, which means people have no option. There is no check by traffic police and authorities. There is no check on the drivers. There is only one government bus running and its dilapidated. There are a host of problems.”
Another resident, Imtiyaz said, “The government thinks that there will be hue and cry for a day and it will dissipate eventually. It will not now. Look at the condition of roads and how there is no check on the operators, drivers and conductors. How come even after the presence of strict traffic rules, as they claim, buses are overloaded? These are questions we want them to answer.”
NewsClick approached Inspector General of Traffic, Alok Kumar for his comments, but he declined to answer and said that he will be addressing a press conference soon.
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