Ideal Road Builders has pocketed nearly Rs1,200 crore from Pune-Mumbai Expressway but what about accident prevention?

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)


In 2010, 443 accidents took place, of which 101 were fatal—103 people were killed.  

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]).

 

 

Comments
RB Shinde
9 years ago
Every lane counter collecting Toll should be provided with additional one person appointed by Traffic regulatory body who can have the authority to send back the vehicle if not provided with the Yellow radium strips on sides & red on rear & white on front. By doing this, the vehicles asked to take U turn will never come back on such roads again as he has already burnt a hole in his pocket by trvelling distance till toll plaza and sent back. This again may create a 24 hrs business to sell the Radium strips at or before such plazas, with the help of men who sells 'Nuts', 'fruits' etc. In fact by doing this at toll plaza will be a major & strategic point for it's implementation as every vehicle touches Mumbai-Pune Expressway at some or other day. But, if such authorities given to IRB, IRB may not send back the vehicle as it will be their revenue loss. Even if IRB is authorised for implementation, IRB may add revenue by selling the radium strips(offcourse if it profits to IRB). Needless to say that IRB will definately sell them at 'Premium Rate'. Traffic Road authorities would cover at least 75% of the vehicles if implemented on almost all toll plazas statewise.
malq
10 years ago
I used to drive on the Pune-Mumbai route extensively, and once the Expressway was complete, analysed it thoroughly. If I may say so, some of the accidents, especially as you rightly identified on the Ghat sections after Khandala towards Pune, are totally preventable.

1) Over-loaded trucks headed uphill are straining every horse they can pull out of their over-loaded engines, and so in first gear, tend to veer into overtaking mode instead of moving single file. If they reduce engine speed, they will simply stall, and not be able to move ahead. Often, this blocks all the lanes as slow-moving trucks go across. Solution:- strict weighbridge checking at both ends, with no compromise, as in Gujarat.

2) Downhill brake testing and escape routes on the side, of the sort seen worldwide, at reasonable intervals, a marked short road peeling off from the downhill stretch, which goes slightly uphill - where a truck can head into if brakes fail. This concept has been used succesfully on the Lahore - Islamabad Expressway, where user conditions are the same.

3) Alcohol testing at the toll booths, based on profiling as well as specially on weekends and holidays, and this needs to include all the so-called VIP vehicles too.

4) The number of cars which appear to be flying red beacons or party flags is about the highest in the country on this road. Delhi Government has shown the way by clamping down hard on this menace, and under the MVA, so can the Maharashtra Government.

These are just a few of the steps that could be taken. For the rest, best of luck!! Thank you for this article.

rgds/VM


Vinita
Replied to malq comment 10 years ago
yes perfectly agree with all your points. I saw what you said in no.2 in the USA - v impressive. The IRB is busy collecting toll money and no monitoring is done of its toll collection by MSRDC's toll monitoring unit so we are forced to believe the figures IRB gives of its toll collection and as for safety and accident prevention which it MUST implement under the contract agreement, it hell cares and MSRDC is not raising this issue with it sternly
ramchandran
10 years ago
it will help if statistics are published as to how many acidents have occurred since the date of contract to IRB . Any maintenance contract must have measures to ensure that the contractor is adhering to his deliverables.
Vinita
Replied to ramchandran comment 10 years ago
yes i have asked for this information - should get it soon
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