Sunday , 22 September 2019

Attempting A Road Revolution in Rajasthan

Establishing the Road Safety Council, reconditioning of old buses for connectivity in rural areas and opening of two driving institutes for providing good drivers are some of the measures that Brij Kishore Sharma, Transport Minister of Rajasthan has initiated to improve the transport situation in the state. He tells TrafficInfraTech that these efforts are not enough. He plans to do much more.

Despite the measures claimed to be taken by transport ministers of various states, the ground situation is that road safety is still a much neglected subject in most of the states. Rajasthan is not an exception.

The Rajasthan government has done tremendous work in road safety. Two years ago, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had announced a Road Safety Council under my chairmanship. We divided our work into two parts – short term and long term. Actually, the problem is that every person feels the responsibility of road safety rests only with the transport department. But in reality, it involves the traffic police, PWD, national highway, health, education and many other departments of the government. An Empowered Committee, chaired by the Additional Chief Secretary of Rajasthan, was formed by the Chief Minister under the Road Safety Council. This Committee allocated the work to these different departments for proper implementation. After bringing all these departments together under the council, we framed rules and took some decisions. I am happy they were implemented too.

Decisions like?

Like putting speed breakers on the Western Highway and all roads touching it. So traffic coming at speed directly on the highway or on the roads touching the highway, will be saved from accidents. We are doing the same thing on the state highways also. Secondly, in accident-prone areas, we have corrected the default in the roads, and after taking reports from PWD, RTOs and collectors, we have set right and improved the loopholes in road engineering, thereby removing the risks from such areas. With the help from National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), we have corrected the signages as well. We have upgraded them, made those visible which lacked visibility, repaired the damaged ones, corrected the directions of those which were turned and put them all back on track. At places, a few had been hidden behind bushes or new hutments; we had these blockages removed. We have also taken twelve interceptors so that people don’t drive at very high speed or talk on mobile while driving. Through our various awareness drives, we have tried to make such people understand the dangers of doing so. We have recommended to the Health Department to develop private hospitals on roadsides and declare them as trauma centres where first aid must be given to the victims within the golden hour. We are working on it seriously. I can’t claim we have gained much success but we have started thinking on these lines.

Normally good policies fail for lack of proper enforcement by traffic police, transport department, PWD, etc. They are perceived to be lethargic and slow…

I don’t deny that but we always see the interceptors on the roads when we travel. And when people call us up to complain that they have been stopped on the roads and challans are being issued to them, it shows that our men are at work. But I don’t deny that lethargy persists in the country, and we are trying to change that.

I would also like to say here that we can streamline the government departments, frame good rules and have them enforced but what do we do when the pedestrians and drivers do not have the needed traffic discipline? We try to take steps to inculcate safe and good habits among people. The most important factor here is that of education. These problems will be solved if we begin educating children about the issues right from the beginning. Right now, transport is missing from the education curriculum beyond signages. We have written to NCERT (CBSE) that transport education must be included in the curriculum.

What difficulties do you face in implementing the rules?

If you have a sincere desire to have the rules implemented, then no specific difficulty arises. Like when we decided that we had to open driving institutes in the state, we got land in the specific regions, i.e. Udaipur and Ajmer. We could then take a few steps further for the two driving institutes in these places.

Our country’s best driving institute is at Namakkal, Tamilnadu. It is run by Ashok Leyland. We are copying the same in Rajasthan. The drivers trained at Namakkal do not have to look for a job anywhere. They get selected in the campus interview itself. And it is worth noting that when driving is not considered a good profession, the drivers of Ashok Leyland’s institute are given very high salaries. That says a lot about the faith people bestow in these drivers’ capabilities. I have been told that we are short of a few lakh drivers in the country. So, we will be training drivers in Rajasthan. When trained drivers will be available, who will take untrained drivers? And when untrained drivers will be out of the system, the situation will automatically improve. I have always believed that if we take care of four Es, i.e., Environment, Enforcement, Emergency and Education, and implement them properly, the accident rates will come down drastically.

Licensing is another area of problems…

I agree that our licensing system is not proper. Till now, you could get licences through an agent. We have tried to bring that down. We have put ‘May I Help You’ boards everywhere to abolish the agent system. A licence seeker can appear for practical tests and get the licence. We have made it easier by taking the process to a website. A person can go on the website, answer questions, take appointment according to his time schedule, go to the department, undergo one hour training and take an exam. Then, when he comes to us after one month for the licence, we will test him on the tracks specially made for the purpose and only then, issue him the licence. When a person goes through such a long procedure, I think he will be more cautious and a well-informed driver. Such drivers will go on to reduce the rampant violation of traffic rules.

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