A road safety campaign far away from the roads
From Borivli to Mahim in the western suburbs, it was the same story everywhere, with traffic police ignoring guidelines set by the state govt to repair or fix signboards, crossings and signals, and limiting their work to 'awareness campaigns'
It didn’t take much time for MiD DAY’s correspondents to reach the disappointing conclusion that the Road Safety Campaign is nothing but an eyewash, with token measures such as ‘awareness programmes’ and ‘colouring contests’.
These simply served to divert the attention of the traffic department from key issues - such as implementing traffic laws, ensuring that signals are in working order and road markings visible, or even providing sufficient police presence at major junctions in the city. Of all the divisions surveyed, only the traffic police at Vakola and Goregaon seemed to have made a concerted effort to achieve these ends, while authorities in Kandivli and Borivli had gone for lip service in the form of school and college awareness drives.
Among other instructions, the traffic police had been briefed by the government to organise corner meetings to educate drivers on the Motor Vehicle Act and safe driving, circulate banners, posters and handbills, organise workshops for drivers at police chowkies located on important roads, and encourage the implementation of reflectors in vehicles.
During the campaign, the Borivli traffic police officials limited themselves to academic institutions, where they conducted ‘awareness programmes’. They stuck to the bare basics, explaining the significance of the different colours in traffic signals and stressing on the importance of crossing the roads through zebra crossings.
But what about the actual roads that the campaign deals with? MiD DAY hiked around to find that some major intersections in the suburb lack the very zebra crossings that the officials had been harping on in their trips to schools and colleges. Kolapwadi signal - the signal after the Sanjay Gandhi National Park Junction on the way towards Bandra - is a case in point.
Conveniently putting the onus for road safety on pedestrians, Senior Traffic Police Inspector AS Kenjane said, “The road is just 50 feet wide. People need to be careful while crossing and driving. But instead they are in a hurry and move carelessly, so accidents are bound to take place. The traffic police officers cannot hold their hands and teach them.”
He also passed the buck to the civic body, “We have been sending letters to the BMC every 15 days over the past three months regarding this very problem, but have failed to elicit a response. Nor do BMC officials think it is feasible to build signals at that junction.” Informed that traffic police appointed at the junction were often unavailable for directing traffic, Kenjane added, “From 11 am to 4 pm they have been asked to concentrate on enforcement work, which means charging law-breakers.”
On March 23 last year, Israr Khan was riding a bike on the Western Express Highway when an overhead cable snapped and fell on him, decapitating him in an instant. Little has changed since then, as stray wires still loom dangerously over the highway, stretching from Kandivli to Bandra. Seemingly oblivious to this reality, Senior traffic inspector AB Patil said, “I have not witnessed any such wires hanging but if I notice them I shall take immediate precautionary steps.” By way of conducting the road safety campaign, the Kandivli traffic police organised an awareness campaign for students of Thakur College, instructing them to drive safely and follow signboards.
Like their colleagues in Borivli and Kandivli, the Malad traffic police held seminars in schools and colleges. “We addressed the students on the importance of traffic rules,” said Senior Inspector RC Patil. The Malad traffic cops went a step further and organised an hour-long workshop for about 200 taxi and rickshaw drivers. However, they didn’t bother to examine the physical fitness of these drivers, as instructed in the guidelines laid down for them by the government. The Malad traffic police also placed boards warning people against drunk driving, and were seen asking motorists in the area to drive safely. In many cases, the measures taken weren’t thorough: for instance, a signboard that read ‘Lane driving is safe driving’ had no accompanying directions to indicate where the lanes actually are.
Goregaon traffic officials were probably the only ones who went beyond talks to implement one of the concrete measures suggested by the government, asking rickshaw and taxi drivers to fix reflectors behind their vehicles, which will help curb the number of accidents in the area. Meanwhile, officials have been meeting drivers to explain to nitty gritties of traffic laws for share rickshaws, and have also imparted some lessons in etiquette for when the drivers are dealing with passengers. The roads, however, offered a familiar picture of neglect. MiD DAY noticed that the traffic signal at the JVLR junction was in a state of utter disrepair. Senior Traffic Inspector VD Mule from Goregaon denied this vehemently.
Besides putting up banners throughout their jurisdiction, the Vakola Traffic officials have organised a 14-day drive, including a programme to combat drunk driving. Out on the roads, yet again, they fell short. Though the government directive urges officials to keep a check on overloaded vehicles, we found and followed an overloaded truck that was loaded with bamboo poles which dangerously jutted out of the vehicle. The truck even drove past two police constables, who didn’t seem to notice and did nothing to stop the driver. Senior Traffic police inspector PP Temkar gave an ingenious excuse for the oversight, saying, “We have set up a team of nine to 10 people. But it is difficult for two constables alone to stop these overloaded trucks as they might crash into them and make a run for it.”
Temkar refused to comment on another glaring and dangerous oversight: a right-turn signboard in Santacruz where the actual turn is to the left.
The Mulund Traffic police had organised several lectures for school and college students. Workshops were also arranged for taxi, van and rickshaw drivers, who were addressed by two police officers from the Mulund traffic department. Yet again, these workshops neglected to conduct physical fitness tests of drivers, as recommended in the government guidelines. A police officer from the department explained, “We have not conducted any tests as of now but we will call the doctors for the same, as there are still two days left for the campaign.” The stretch of the Eastern Express Highway from Mulund check naka to Chadda Nagar comes under the jurisdiction of the Vikroli traffic police. About the broken signal at the junction which connects Eastern Express Highway to Mulund (East), traffic police inspector DS Shelkar from Vikroli said, “I don’t think we need a signal in that area as I have not noticed much traffic there, but when necessary we make use of that signal.” Asked about the divider which becomes virtually invisible at night and has led to several accidents, he said, “It is the responsibility of the Public Works Department but even so, I put money from my own pocket and had reflectors fixed on that divider.”
The jurisdiction of the Mahim traffic police extends till Dadar. As part of the campaign, they conducted several lectures on safe driving at the Mahim bus depot and sundry taxi stands. Senior police inspector RD Sonavane said, “I have even personally visited several schools and colleges to spread awareness about traffic rules.”
The roads, yet again told a different story. MiD DAY visited areas such as Kabutar Khana and Hanuman Mandir, where traffic was chaotic as usual. Many key crossing points lacked zebra crossings, and there wasn’t even a chowky for traffic cops in the vicinity. Sonavane responded, “We have sent several letters regarding the issue to the BMC but don’t know when they will respond.” We also spotted a traffic sign covered by political hoardings.
At a signal in Charni Road, the Opera House signal was completely obscured by political boards. Near Churchgate railway station, we spotted a taxi and biker heading into a one-way lane from opposite dirrections. Many cars and taxis ignored zebra crossings.
No blind spots in the city?
According to a study conducted by the Directorate General of Traffic Vijay Kamble in 2007, there are 144 blind spots - accident prone areas - across the state, which are being re-examined by the traffic department at present. Kamble said, “The process is on but it will take more than six months, as we have to go through all the accidents which took place in the course of a decade.” Asked whether there are any blind spots in Mumbai, he responded, “Our focus has only been highways because the issue of speeding and accidents is particularly common there. In Mumbai there is a lot of traffic.”
Guidelines issued to traffic police
Ensuring reflectors are attached to vehicles and at other strategic locations
Preventing vehicles from overcrowding and overloading
Displaying numbers of nearby hospitals, ambulances, cranes and police stations in strategic locations
Conducting training sessions for all bus drivers
Conducting separate training sessions for school bus drivers
Fixing streetlights and putting new ones up
Mending and painting zebra crossings
Guiding pedestrians with the help of signs or officers
Organising drawing and essay competitions in schools uChecking the fitness of drivers
Maintaining ambulances and doctors in nearby areas
Creative answers from cops
AS Kenjane, Senior Traffic police inspector, Borivli
Drivers and pedestrians are always in a hurry. Accidents are bound to take place. The traffic police cannot hold their hands and teach them.
AB Patil, Senior traffic police inspector, Kandivli
There are no hanging wires anywhere
PP Temkar, Senior Traffic inspector, Vakola
It is difficult for two constables alone to stop these overloaded trucks as they might even crash into them and drive off.
DS Shelkar, traffic police inspector, Vikhroli
I haven’t noticed traffic in that area, but when we do, we will make use of the signal. I had to put money from my own pocket to fix reflectors on a divider.