Overloading; Rash Driving Claiming Lives Of Passengers In J&K

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Srinagar- Hilly terrain, rash driving, overloading of passengers and dilapidated condition of roads are said to be the main reasons for the spike in deadly accidents in the Pir Panjal range and Chenab valley of the Jammu region.

In less than 24 hours, 16 people have lost their lives while 50 others sustained injuries in two different traffic incidents, exposing the fault lines in the much hyped road safety measures of the traffic department.

Lately, government figures suggest that the deaths caused by road accidents in J&K in 2021 are much higher than those killed during the three decades of conflict. However, of late, the Chenab and Pin Panjal region of Jammu witnessed more traffic accidents and deaths than the Kashmir Valley.

According to figures, 896 people lost their lives due to traffic incidents in the year 2021 in J&K. Among them, 676 were reported from Jammu region and 220 from the Valley.

The recently released Crime Gazette 2021 by Jammu and Kashmir Police revealed that 4506 people were injured in Jammu last year and 2317 in the Valley.

According to the data, sixty-five percent of road accidents (3585) were reported from the Jammu division. Around 1876 mishaps occurred in Kashmir. In 2020, 728 people lost their lives in the Union Territory.

The locals lamented from time to time that the successive governments have failed to come-up with any preventive strategy to minimise loss of lives in the road rage.

“Apart from that, there is a very thick presence of traffic cops on the road to check the wrong doings,” said Mohammad Taki, a resident of Doda.

Taki further added that the roads in the mountainous region are not only prone to landslides but are also surrounded by deep gorges and river bodies as a result of which chances of survival in accidents are very less.

“In most of the accidents, the vehicles fell in the rivers and it is difficult to locate the dead bodies even,” Taki said.

Mohan Lal Kaith, Senior Superintendent of Police, Traffic Rural Jammu, told Kashmir Observer that the frequent accidents are a challenge for them and there are several factors that need to be looked-up.

In the Poonch accident, he said, the driver couldn’t control the vehicle because of the brake failure as a result the mini-bus which was overcrowded plunged into a deep gorge.

“The driver was also in our bad books as we had challaned him on at least six occasions,” Kaith said.

He further said the min-bus has the seating capacity of over 29 people but the driver had carried over 38 people.

“You need to understand that in remote areas the buses are usually overloaded due to less public transport,” Kaith added.

In Rajouri accident, he said, there was no overcrowding but the driver also lost the control over his new vehicle apparently due to “human error”

“It will get clear once the mechanical report comes” he added.

In the backdrop of two back to back deadly accidents leading to public outcry, traffic police have tightened the noose against violators and are likely to intensify the road safety measures.

“We have directed all the SHO’s to go for FIR’s against the drivers who resort to overloading of passengers,” Kaith added.

While rejecting the allegation, Javid Naik, who operates a tour and travel company from Doda region, said they don’t resort to overloading and drive very sensibly.

“If the passenger vehicles are overloaded, what about the private vehicles that become the cause of accidents,” Naik said, adding “These are mere allegations. The truth is that the government is not serious about the maintenance of roads and other infrastructure in the region”

Sources said that the traffic department lacks manpower and faces a staff crunch.

“We don’t have staff to deploy at vulnerable stretches, and to check the overloading of passengers at most of the places,” said an SSP rank officer, who wished not to be named.

He further added that the department is not in a position to deploy traffic personnel on every route of the region.

However, Shabir Ahmad Malik Superintendent of police (SSP) Traffic, NHW, Ramban argued that in 80 percent of the accident cases, the drivers are responsible.

“First they overload the vehicle, then they either use mobile or do rash driving despite knowing well that the terrain is hilly,” said Malik, who is overseeing the treacherous stretch of Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

He, however, said that “engineering fault” is also one of the factors that the government needs to look into.

“The hilly roads need to be guarded with crash barriers. The super elevation of the roads is to reduce the tendency of vehicles to overturn in transverse slopes,” Malik added.

Malik further noted that the reason Chenab and Pir Panjal witnessed massive traffic causalities is that the vehicle falls in a deep gorge and ultimately goes into China River.

“The number of the casualties are high because it’s very difficult and time consuming to rescue the injured,” he added.

However the locals said the lack of infrastructure and less transport in the region is one of the main reasons for the spike in accidents.

“The government has never focused on Chenab and Pir Panchal. Their entire focus was always on Kashmir and Jammu city,” Zubair Ahmad Khan, a resident of Kishtwar alleged.

Khan said the people have no other option but to choose the overloaded bus because there is very less public transport in the district.

However, be it faulty road engineering and pathetic condition of roads the people of the region continuously become the victims of road rage.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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