Since the last few months, one can safely open the newspaper, expecting to read about at least one death caused by a speeding vehicle, a bus that went out of control and the likes. In fact, these incidents of accidental deaths and injuries have become so commonplace that those, to whom it does not directly or indirectly affect, have become strangely immune to them. For instance, today’s newspaper had these two incidents to talk of. “Two men on a motorcycle were critically injured after they were hit by a bus in north east Delhi on Sunday afternoon.” And, “A man died after being hit by a speeding container truck today on Thana road in front of Chand Gas agency in the Najafgarh area, south-west district.” I doubt if anyone was even aware of these freak accidents. (I am not surprised considering they are now relegated to some insignificant corner of the newspaper). Nonetheless, our fatal roadways have come under public scrutiny. The CM has gone on record saying that in another five or so years the Bluelines will be completely phased-out.
The point that I am trying to make here is different. My own observations and experiences around Delhi roads have another story to tell. I feel that it is foolish to argue that Delhi doesn’t have proper roadways. In fact, any expert, from any country will tell you that some of the roads in Delhi are one of the best in the world! Mahatma Gandhi Road, familiar to us as the ‘Ring Road’ is one of those. At most places on it (I say most, because not having taken a complete tour of the road, I am guessing it might not be the same everywhere) there are wide, and foot high foot-paths, well-kept and clean bus shelters and importantly, even bus boxes – a clearly marked box on the road with bright yellow for the bus to stop. This entire paraphernalia however put to little use by commuters. While I wait for the “U-Spl” in the mornings, I can see hordes of people standing in the bus-box, obstructing almost one-half of the road, in their eagerness to spot the bus first. Connaught Place might have one of the most crowded and busiest roads in Delhi, but there are enough number of subways provided to keep the congested roads free of pedestrians. Yet we have pedestrians, jumping over fences ignoring the lights, and crossing roads with absolute indifference to the poor policeman’s pleas. A recent addition to Delhi’s roads has been separate tracks for cycles and scooters. This has been done to isolate the heavy vehicles from the lighter ones with a view to reduce possible chances of accidents. Perhaps the cyclists believe that they are too good to be requiring this special treatment from the authorities or it gives their egos a boost to be competing with trucks on the main roads, but for whatsoever reason they don’t seem to be bothering too much with these cycle tracks.
This tendency to flout all norms set down for the benefit of the commuters is more glaring in Delhi than in any other place in India. It seems to me that we Delhi’ites take a perverse pleasure in defying authority. In our ecstasy at having successfully conned the policeman, we forget that the rule is there for our safety. We associate rules only with the inconvenience they cause, not the reasons for which they are in existence. Therefore, when we read about a Blueline that crushed a pedestrian or a truck that ran over a bicycle, we are obviously ruffled. It serves as a crude reminder of the extent to which a commuter (includes both pedestrians and vehicle drivers) can go to disobey a simple instruction. The truck ran over the cyclist because either the truck driver was driving beyond the speed limit or the cyclist thrust himself in front of the truck too suddenly, or both. Same goes for the killer Blueline. Both cases are examples of breaking simple traffic rules – which led to disasters.
Personally, I don’t think phasing out Bluelines will solve anything. If it’s not the Bluelines, it will be some other ‘line’ out on a killing spree. And this will continue…until we Delhi’ites take cue and start taking traffic rules for what they can be – that is, a matter of life and death!