The rate of bus mishaps in Himachal Pradesh is spiralling. What are the reasons behind these tragic incidents? Is it plain oversight of inexperienced drivers? Or is there more to it than meets the eye?
137 km stretch between Kaza-Gramphoo is arguably India’s most dangerous traffic route. Certainly not for the weak hearted. And those who have lived the experience certainly vouch for it — some of the stretches are like being on a play station with a three D-effect. The difference being…there can be no second time here. If you lose you lose forever. Even the professional car rally drivers, stop the flirtiness here they are so used to elsewhere. Kaza-Gramphoo is so symbolic a reminder of the delicate art of driving in Himachal Pradesh and to follow your head and not the gut. Which means you either drive or you go dead?
One small mistake can be the difference between life and death. This small peaceful hill state sees terror only in the form of road accidents. And Monday was one such day of terror when a bus fell into a gorge and 40 lives were lost. In fact in the last three months three major bus accidents have taken place. Before this one, the Chamba-Bharmour road also saw 52 people go dead which came as a grim reminder of how bad it can get and before that the accident of the tourist bus in Kangra. Since 1987, there have been about 50 such bus falls in the state. Though there is no count of the smaller vehicles.
Karcham-Sangla, Chamba-Bharmour, Chamba-Khajiar, Kullu-Manikaran, Dharampur-Sarkaghat, Shimla-Kiartoo, Nauradhar-Haripurdhar are all roads adjoining gorges in the deep. The deadly silence here is broken once in a while when a slow HRTC bus hums along the path. The huge distance of depth a person’s eye can sight into these nallahs are a ghosty reminder of unwanted accidents which have taken hundreds of lives. In fact many of these places had no names. They acquired names after the accidents took place — Like 18/2 — atharah batta do near Sunni in Shimla, meaning thereby. That after the accident 18 died and two survived. Another one is called Laal dhank, red ravine near Renuka – lal referring to the blood that stains the mountainous ravines after the accident.
Look at the brief history of road terror arising out of bus accidents in Himachal Pradesh.
· In 1987 A Shimla bound overcrowded bus fell off road at Jhiknipul.
· In 1993 a Kotkhai bound bus fell off road near Kufri.
· In 1996, Rampur witnessed another such incident.
· In 2000, a private bus fell into Beas.
· In 2007, a bus fell near Ghanhaati on way to Shimla killing at least 25 people.
· In 2008, another bus went down the gorge near Kufri.
· In 2012 a tourist bus killing 10 passenger went off road near Kangra.
· August 11 2012 accident of Chamba is the latest in the series.
But have any lessons been learnt as a result of these accidents. Probably none. Kaza- Gramphoo is just symbolic of the tricky roads of this hill state. Others may not be all that bad, but there are certainly treacherous, and make no mistake bends. Also called hairpin bends or locally called chudel mod or kanchis. Carelessness apart, the apathy at the level of the government too comes to the fore. Fewer bus services as a result overcrowded buses, inexperienced drivers, long duty hours, use of mobile phones while driving are some of the compounding factors which contribute to the accidents and deaths. The death of a dozen passengers in a tourist bus in the month of July near Kangra was due to the bus being driven by a sleepy driver, who slept and never woke. In Chamba too, it was the over crowded bus due to the international fair of minjar and delay on the part of the government of accepting the demand of the locals for another bus.
Though, former minister and Cong leader Asha Kumari also says that overcrowding cannot be attributed to people alone. It is more than the people’s a government’s problem. Govt wants more money so they tax the vehicle owners heavily. Vehicle owners in turn overcrowd the buses to maximise profits.
The MLAs whose constituencies have a low bus-passenger ratio and high accident rate have to say about bus accidents and how to deal with them.
They say there should be:
* Strict compliance of seating and passenger’s ratio in the buses.
* Parapets and retaining walls should be built to ensure there is no seepage of water during monsoons.
* Need for qualified and trained drivers
* More buses on all routes.
When this demand fell on deaf ears, it was the Himachal Pradesh High Court which had to step in after the recently bus accident in Chamba. The HC asked the Transport Commissioner and state police chief to takes effective measure to check such accidents, like checking of driving licenses, use of mobile phones, etc. Others go on to say that as long as the roads are not built scientifically this problem cannot be addressed.
After all, the compensation provided after the accident amounts to incurring bigger cost than providing easy transport availability beforehand so that there is less crowding in the buses.
It is not as though the state govt at its highest level is not mindful of danger and accident-prone roads; it is just that the intent to act on the ground gets diluted at the level of bureaucracy.
For the more adventurous kinds, though, who look for bigger thrill, Kaza-Gramphoo road is where they should head. Dubbed as one of the most dangerous roads in India. For we need to differentiate between the once-in-a-while thrill-seekers and those who have to take the road to hell to reach their offices and school.
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