GUWAHATI, June 1 � The tragic road mishap at Charabari near Hajo in which around 30 people were killed lays bare the chaos concerning road safety and management of vehicular traffic.
Equally deplorable was the handling of the post-accident situation by the civil and police authorities of Kamrup district.
The bus carrying a marriage party is said to have lost control after hitting an unmarked speed-breaker near the wooden bridge and plunged into the ditch after crashing through the wooden railings.
It is to be noted that several fatal mishaps had occurred in the past along that stretch of the Guwahati-Hajo-Nalbari PWD road, including the tragedy in 1986 in which 42 people of a bus were killed.
This naturally raises questions why the wooden bridge was not replaced with a concrete structure, or even why a simple exercise like properly marking a speed-breaker was not done. People feel that such lapses on the part of the authorities definitely amount to criminal negligence.
Despite repeated attempts by The Assam Tribune to have the views of the PWD officials and Transport minister in this connection, they could not be connected as they were either 'not in office' or 'in a meeting.'
Even the handling of the post-accident situation betrays an appalling lack of concern and sincerity on the part of the police and the Kamrup district administration. Local people said that the police from the nearby Hajo police station took an hour to reach the spot after the accident occurred at 10-30 pm. Similar was the response from the civil administration authorities.
Personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) took eight hours to arrive at the accident site, and by that time the local people retrieved most of the bodies besides rescuing the six survivors.
NDRF officials, however, said that they were informed of the accident by the district administration only at 3-26 am following which an NDRF team was rushed to the spot. "We were informed of the incident by the deputy commissioner at 3-26 am and after that our team started the journey at 4-10 and reached the spot after an hour," Abhijit Singh, deputy commandant of the NDRF battalion stationed here said.
Whatever may be the case, the delay clearly exposes how government departments and agencies lack the necessary coordination and preparedness to deal with an emergency situation.
According to public activist Prof Deven Dutta, the spurt in fatal road accidents is largely attributable to the failure of the authorities such as Transport, Police and PWD to restore some semblance of normalcy on the State's roads.
"The unprecedented rise in the number of killer road accidents is directly attributable to the glaring lapses on the part of these government authorities that continue to turn a blind eye to the rampant violations of all road safety and vehicular traffic management norms. Rash driving, driving under the influence of alcohol, overcrowding in all forms of public transport, driving of vehicles without number plates, etc., have become the norm and are having a multiplying effect on accidents today, as the authorities do not enforce the law," Prof Dutta said, adding that widespread corruption was the major factor behind the reluctance of the authorities to enforce the law.
Prof Dutta also questioned the knee-jerk reaction of the Government following a tragedy caused by its own negligence and failure, and said that it needed to address the issue in a pragmatic manner rather than initiating palliative measures as a damage-control exercise following such an incident.
"After the death of around three dozen people for the criminal negligence of the authorities, the Chief Minister now announces that a concrete bridge would replace the wooden one. Was the Government waiting for so many people to die to announce this?" he asked.
It is inexplicable why the wooden bridge was not replaced with a concrete one in the wake of so many fatal mishaps since 1986. As local people allege, this might have something to do with the fact that the Hajo constituency did not have a Congress legislator for a long time until the recent assembly polls.
Terming Transport Minister Chandan Brahma as the worst performing member in the State cabinet, Prof Dutta said that he had been turning a blind eye to all the illegalities plaguing the transport sector for reasons best known to him, and was 'rewarded' for this by the Chief Minister for a second term.
Prof Dutta said that the State Chief Secretary, the DGP, and the deputy commissioners of the districts were also responsible for the unprecedented rise in road mishaps. "The deputy commissioner is also the chairman of the Regional Transport Authority but his role in checking the disturbing trend of mishaps is deplorable," he added.
Prof Dutta further lambasted the Opposition for their silence in such a matter of vital public importance. "Through its resounding silence the Opposition has shown that it is totally unconcerned about a life-and-death matter of the masses," he said.