Bhopal: In a little known town in Madhya Pradesh’s Ratlam district, 42-year-old Rajendra Kelwa stops whenever he spots a pothole or a pit in the road. He either fixes it with his bare hands by using debris from construction sites or puts a warning sign on it by using iron scraps or bamboo to warn motorists.
Once the job is done, he carries on and keeps his eyes peeled for the next accident-prone zone.
In addition to fixing potholes, he has also installed traffic signals and blinkers at accident prone squares in the city – areas which may pose problems to motorists – by spending nearly Rs 2.5 lakh from his own savings.
Kelwa neither suffers from any disorder nor is a social worker with a deep pocket. It’s his way to pay tribute to his 20-year-old son, Divyansh Kelwa, whom he lost to the carelessness of a truck driver who rammed into his son’s motorcycle. It is his way of pointing out glitches to officials of the State Road Development Corporation and private road construction agencies who leave behind dozens of spots, squares and blind curves in the city without blinkers, traffic signals and lights.
The municipal corporation and private road construction agencies have left behind potholes after having dug it up for various construction works. Motorists have fallen prey to them, especially during the monsoon season, sometimes dying too.
On January 2 this year, when Divyansh was waiting for his friends near Sala Khedi Square – which connects the city to the Ratlam-Indore state highway – in the evening with one of his school friends, 19-year-old Gurpreet Saluja, a speeding truck rammed into their bike from behind. Divyansh was on the rear seat.
The impact was so intense that both were flung into the air and thrown meters away. They were left bleeding profusely and unconscious.
The shocked passersby who immediately informed the police. The cops subsequently rushed them to the district hospital where the doctor declared Divyansh dead owing to the internal bleeding in the head and severe injuries on neck and back. Gurpreet escaped death with serious injuries. He is still recovering, three months later.
“They were waiting for their friends on the bike at the side of the road. They planned on going to the nearest dhaba to celebrate a schoolmate's birthday when the truck mowed them down,” said Rajendra Kelwa, a journalist who works for local media outlets.
Kelwa had just reached home after wrapping up the day’s work when police gave him the fateful news. News of his son’s death left him speechless. He immediately rushed to the hospital without uttering a word to his wife. However, she sensed something was amiss and followed him with their 13-year-old son, Yug, to the hospital.
Kelwa said he wanted to cry when he saw the mutilated body of his son, but held back his tears. “If I begin to cry, who will console his mother and brother,” he recalled, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Indeed, my son died because of the reckless driving of a truck driver, but he alone isn’t responsible for his death; the Government and private road construction agencies' officials are similarly responsible for Divyansh’s death. They left the busiest square of the city (a blind curve) without a traffic signal, blinkers, a street light or even a speed breaker, years after its construction. The square is unsafe just like a newly-constructed furnished home without gates and lights,” Kelwa lamented.
With it being dark and since there were no traffic signals on the square, the driver was confused , didn’t see the bike, and rammed into it, Kelwa explained.
Divyansh was a first year Bachelors of Commerce student and wanted to become a banker. “He was a very intelligent, caring and obedient son and he would not have wanted this to happen to anyone else. Hence, I decided to fix those accident prone squares, spots and blind curves in the city so no one else would suffer the way I suffered,” said Kelwa.
In the last two months Kelwa has managed to install traffic signals and blinkers on eight major squares in the city and fixed innumerable potholes, all from his savings.
Govind Kakani, a social activist from the city, said the spot where Divyansh had died was an accident-prone zone. But, no accidents have taken place after his father installed a traffic signal, lights and blinkers there.
“Between December 1, 2020 to and January 31, 2021, six accidents had taken place on that particular square. Four people succumbed to their injuries while dozens received severe injuries. But since February 22, when Kelwa installed a traffic signal, blinkers and lights at the square, no accident had been reported even after more than a month,” said Kakani.
After Divyansh’s accident, the police chased down the truck 35 kms away from Ratlam. They found the truck on the side of the road without a driver and registered a case of road rage accident after seizing the vehicle. With the case filed as a road accident, the truck driver got bail and was released in the following weeks, the police said.
Ratlam is a small city in Madhya Pradesh about 300 kms away from the state capital of Bhopal. But, in such a small city, more than 200 people die every year due to road accidents, according to the records provided by the district police.
“Accidental death is a big issue in our country, but since it only affects an individual or a family, it does not become an issue. But, with the efforts of Rajendra Kelwa, the city's roads have become a little safer. He used his savings to fix squares, installed blinkers and filled potholes,” said Gaurav Tiwari, Superintendent of Police, Ratlam.
“His spirit to save others from a similar fate that his son met with, is exceptional. I extend my total cooperation to Kelwa for this noble cause. Besides, I have instructed road maintenance agencies to fix spots which are leading to accidents,” Tiwari added.
These efforts have not satisfied Kelwa, however. He has identified 10 more spots in the city and has sought permission from the Municipal Corporation and State Highway authorities to fix those accident prone zones and, hopefully, save lives.