Moneylife invoked the RTI Act last fortnight to find out that Ideal Road Builders has collected about Rs1,200 crore until June 2011 since it took up the 15-year contract of security and maintenance in April 2004. But where is its commitment towards a safe journey, considering the constant episodes of fatal accidents?
While I was travelling on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway on Tuesday morning (22 November 2011), I witnessed an accident wherein an allegedly speeding car was sandwiched between two army trucks, in the ghat section. I was also taken aback when a `Swift’ car, probably at 200kmph overtaking us at that very speed from the left, cut in front of us, to get into the fast lane on our right and then swerve back towards the central lane. Both these incidents—accidents and over-speeding—happen with scary regularity every single day on the expressway.
Ideal Road Builders (IRB), the operations and maintenance agency for the Pune-Mumbai Expressway, has a contract of 15 years between 2004 and 2019. As per the 864-page contract agreement procured by this writer in April 2011, under the RTI Act, Chapter 4 (on page 145) clearly places crucial responsibilities of expressway management, on IRB.
As per the agreement, IRB’s responsibilities include upkeep of the road and traffic management. Some of its other crucial duties include patrolling, safety including accident prevention, cleanliness and fencing, ensure ban on cattle and prevent villagers from straying on to the expressway.
However, IRB has completely failed in implementing accident prevention measures and Big Brother MSRDC (Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation) has not bothered to haul up IRB. Its ‘monitoring unit’ Stupp Consultants, to which it pays Rs10 lakh per month is required to ensure that IRB lives to its commitment as per the agreement contract, but looks the other way.
As per the details I collected last fortnight through RTI, the traffic on the Expressway comprises cars as highest in numbers, followed by trucks in vehicular traffic. Whereas in 2007-2008, the number of cars passing through the Expressway were 57 lakh (57,67,023 to be precise), in 2009-2010, that number has increased to 79 lakh (79,72,271 to be precise). As against this, the number of trucks (including ordinary trucks, three axles as well as multi-axles) were 25 lakh (25,55,811) in 2007-2008 whereas in 2009-2010, it increased to 27 lakh (27,328,818).
Thus, earlier there were 2.25 cars for every truck and as of 2010 it was 2.91 cars for every truck. Most of the accidents take place between these two kinds of vehicles.
Other vehicles using the Expressway include light commercial vehicles (LCV)-9 lakh in 2007-2008 (9,53,540 to be precise) and 14 lakh (14,44,297) in 2009-2010. As for buses they were 5.2 lakh (5,28,441) in 2007-2008 and 5.8 lakh (5,83,567) in 2009-2010.
(see box for details of vehicles and toll collection)
Chandmal Parmar, noted road accident prevention activist and chairman of Rail, Road and Traffic Management Committee of Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture (MCCIA) says, “IRB has completely failed in the maintenance and patrolling of the Expressway. It is collecting toll without giving proper services to the people.” The toll collection is nearly Rs1,200 crore (Rs1,117.5551 crores to be precise till June 2011) as per documents provided under RTI last fortnight.
Ban trucks at night to control accidents: MCCIA
Last week, the Rail, Road and Traffic Management Committee of the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture (MCCIA), Pune, held a press conference to highlight the seriousness of accidents on the Expressway and gave operational solutions for the same. In a survey conducted by the MCCIA, 90% of the accidents take place between the Lonavala entry and the Khalapur food mall, which is the ghat section.
States Chandmal Parmar, chairman of the Rail, Road and Traffic Management Committee, “Considering the number of accidents, the Expressway appears to have been transformed into a death trap. The data received from Highway Police, during April, May, June and July 2011, states that 74 accidents have been registered out of which 18 were fatal, 31 serious and 48 were minor accidents, resulting in 21 deaths, 51 serious injuries and 47 minor injuries, during this period. Consequently, the commuters had to undergo sufferings in the form of traffic jam and frustration.”
As an immediate solution, MCCIA has suggested that trucks of all types be banned between 10pm and 6am. They could either take the NH-IV (the old Pune-Mumbai highway) or then wait through the night before embarking on the Expressway journey. States Mr Parmar, “It is agonizing for car drivers to drive through the monstrous trucks and become victims of accidents. We have been advocating a ban on plying of trucks since the last two years.”
In this regard, memorandums and letters were submitted by the MCCIA to the chief minister, deputy. chief minister, guardian minister of Pune district, home minister, minister for public works (private), MLAs of Pune district and MSRDC (Pune and Mumbai). “No one has taken serious note of our suggestion,” laments Mr Parmar.
Anant Sardeshmukh, executive director general, MCCIA, stated that the state government has recently announced a plan to have a separate bypass on Khandala Ghat section. As per the plan, the NH-IV is proposed to be converted into six lanes and the Expressway to 8 lanes. Also, the common stretch of expressway and NH 4 on the Ghat section is planned to be separated. The bypass will be taken from below the Lonavla lake, is estimated to be completed within 6-7 years and would involve expenditure to the tune of Rs4,000 crore-Rs5,000 crore.
Mr Sardeshmukh states, “It would be necessary to obtain requisite sanctions and approvals from the Union ministry for roads and forests & environments for the purpose. Further, the work has to pass through the bottleneck of objections and agitations by environmentalists. Therefore, it is not possible to ascertain the exact time frame for completion of this project.” Also he rues that the state government, MSRDC as well as IRB are not coming out with any solutions or measures to minimize the rising number of accidents.
How about action on IRB for its negligence in brazenly taking toll from people and not giving them the safety?
(Tomorrow: Accident Spots)
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected]).
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