he recent late night road mishap that resulted in the death of a young medical practitioner Dr Amit Bisoi on 23 September at Bomikhal, Bhubaneswar should act as a warning signal for the authorities. There is no doubt that the road and highway infrastructure across Orissa has considerably improved during the past few years. Most single lane roads have been doubled or quadrupled which in turn has prompted drivers to press on the accelerator and speed up. One can also observe that with economic development more modern vehicles of various brands are plying on the roads. While vastly improving the infrastructure, no one seems to be paying attention to the needs of maintenance and upkeep of the roads and streets. Corrupt and inefficient practices during the construction of these roads also make them easily susceptible to the vagaries of nature. One of the prominent examples could be seen during the construction of the Bomikhal flyover stretching from Saheed Nagar to Cuttack-Puri Road over the train track. This over-bridge collapsed twice, first killing a scooter rider on 10 September 2017 and the second incident that occurred on 3 May 2018 killed one of the construction workers.
Even today, that flyover is a traffic deathtrap. This is proven by the accident of a motorbike rider who hit the wrongly designed divider at the T-junction and fell down from the bridge thus meeting with an instant death. All this demonstrates faulty road designs, absolutely zero concern about traffic control and callous road maintenance. This is not limited to the ‘smart city’ Bhubaneswar alone. From Balasore to Berhampur, from Sambalpur to Malkanagiri, the humungous road infrastructure of Orissa seems to be waiting to kill or maim drivers and pedestrians alike.
Interestingly, names of prominent personalities are generally put up on roads and bridges to mark the inauguration of that stretch. The fatalities in Orissa should alert the authorities that it is more important to prominently display the names of the engineers in charge, the designers and the contractor/executioner of those projects so that those individuals will have accountability for faulty workmanship.
Modern vehicles with faster pickup are enticing drivers to speed up. While these vehicles are meant for roads used by traffic regulation conscious citizens, sadly one observes a total lack of traffic awareness amongst the people. Pedestrians too do not have the safety of raised and even sidewalks which forces them to walk on the roads. Many cases have been reported where pedestrians have fallen into open drains and their bodies have been recovered a few kilometers away. All such deadly accidents keep repeating because there is no accountability or responsibility. Added to this, driving licenses are issued to untrained and illiterate individuals incapable of deciphering road signs and written instructions.
It is pertinent to understand that modern communication will depend on improved road connectivity. The near future will usher in an era of AI controlled self driven vehicles that will very soon populate the roads of Bhubaneswar and Orissa too. Large stretches of roads and bridges being built in the 2020s seem to be unfit for the future vehicles. Bringing down road fatalities drastically will imply constant monitoring of new road constructions as well as their upkeep. Blind and lopsided growth is killing people on a daily basis. Immediate corrective action can and must be taken. The starting should be done by strict monitoring of traffic violations and hefty fines imposed on those who deny safety to others. The cops should stop checking people for helmets and instead check drivers under the influence of alcohol, wrong side drives, jumping traffic lights and general mischief and erratic driving on the roads. A sustained drive by traffic police on these few points will greatly help decrease road fatalities and will encourage people to be responsible for their actions.