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In March 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO), revealed in its report, the deplorable state of India’s roads and the startling number of road accidents that occur every year. According to Bloomberg Philanthropies, a charitable foundation headquartered in New York City, the dubious distinction of being the country with the highest number of road traffic fatalities goes to India. The lack of adequate government infrastructure investment and stringent traffic and safety policies makes driving on these roads rather perilous.
To tackle the key question of road safety, the Supreme Court of India recently set up a three-member panel to ensure that both State Governments and Central enforce safety guidelines. The three judges of the Supreme Court said in their judgment, “Indian roads have proved to be giant killers demanding immediate attention and remedial action. Such attention and necessary intervention, in the first instance, are required to be made by the concerned governmental agencies.”
The apex court wants states to take more responsibility and work towards fewer road-related accidents. According to statistics, a person dies every four minutes in a traffic accident and a major accident occurs every minute in this country. The court believes it is imperative that emergency care is available to victims. “Road traffic accidents have the potential of being one of the largest challenges to orderly human existence, necessitating immediate and urgent intervention”, said Justice Gogoi. He added, “Regular maintenance of all highways and roads, both by the Central and the State Governments, in order to make the same traffic worthy, is the minimum that the citizens of this country can expect and are entitled to. We hardly need to emphasise that it is the duty of the Central and the State Governments to ensure the availability of safe roads, worthy of traffic.”
The Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, even with all its minor amendments since then, has failed to reduce the number of road traffic deaths and injuries. India’s top court, the Supreme Court said, "Not only the existing laws, which by themselves are inadequate, are not being implemented in the right earnest; the need for changes in such laws and upgradation thereof, though admitted, are yet to see the light of day. To ensure the success of the process undertaken, constant supervision of this Court of the measures undertaken by the Central Government and State Governments, and the extent of affirmative action on part of the Union and the states will have to be measured and monitored by the Court from time to time. Keeping in mind that the time available to this court is limited, we deem it proper to constitute a committee to undertake the process of monitoring on behalf of the court."
The committee will have three eminent personalities – Justice K S Radhakrishnan, who will retire from the apex court and head the panel, S Sundar, who was a former Transport Ministry secretary, and Dr. Nishi Mittal, who was the head of the Traffic Engineering and Safety at the Central Road Research Institute. The court wants the panel to submit a report after three months of implementing and enforcing laws – related to licensing, road safety issues, including those pertaining to the installation of safety devices and adherence to laws, fitness certification of vehicles, and placement of adequate traffic personnel for implementing the existing legal provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act – and make suitable recommendations post scrutiny.