The question of safety on roads and highways has returned to center stage following the death of industrialist Cyrus Mistry in an accident in Palghar district earlier this month. Kulwant Sarangal, the additional director general of police, traffic, and law and order, talks about the steps taken by his department to improve traffic safety on the state’s highways.
Where is the Cyrus Mistry case? What have you found in your investigations so far?
The investigation is ongoing. We still have to speak to the lady driving the vehicle to get the full picture of what happened. Our probe so far suggests that at the time of impact, the speed of the car was around 89 km per hour. This was confirmed by the data logger, which is an integral part of the vehicle that was driven. We are also investigating whether the road’s transition from a three-lane to a two-lane road played a role in the crash. Questions like whether there was a design flaw in the road that led to the crash are also being investigated. However, at this stage, we cannot authenticate these issues as experts are still examining various factors that may have played a role in the crash. Commenting on what exactly happened would not be appropriate at this time as investigations are still ongoing.
Was the place where the accident happened a black spot and a place prone to accidents?
No, it was not a black spot or an accident prone area. It is the only accident of the last year which occurred on the spot. We have no record of any accidents occurring at this particular location.
Do you propose to declare this section as a black point? What are the parameters for declaring a section as a black point?
According to the established rule, an accident black spot is a road corridor approximately 500 m long on which either five road accidents, resulting in fatalities and serious injuries, have been reported during the last three calendar years or 10 deaths in the last three years. So until these criteria are met, we cannot declare the area as a black spot.
Speeding on highways is a big problem. How do you handle offenders?
Overspeeding is a cause for concern and one of the causes of accidents. Fighting speeding on highways is a challenge. If a motorist is driving on a freeway at 150 km/h and breaks the speed limit standard, then stopping a vehicle in the middle of the freeway is a problem. Currently we are deploying rapid guns. We park our vehicles randomly on the highway to capture data from overspeeding vehicles. We then send them summonses to their homes condemning them to a fine. Although the recovery rate for these fines is lower, things are improving and people are thinking twice about breaking speed standards.
The recent Cyrus Mistry accident has brought to the fore the issue of the use of seat belts in the rear seats. What is your view on this issue and is there any proposal to make their use compulsory in Maharashtra?
There are 2 million cases of violations per year. These are all kinds of offences, including failure to wear seat belts and helmets as well as speeding. We issue challans to all offenders. We already issue challans if we find passengers not wearing seat belts, whether in the front seat or the back seat. But the app has its own limitations. There is also a need for behavior change which takes time. If a car owner has invested money to put certain features into their car, they should use them as well. Accidents will happen, we cannot eliminate them all together. But we have reduced the number of fatalities and the severity of injuries by following safety rules such as wearing helmets and seat belts.
Do you think there is a need to review the way people who break traffic rules are fined? Also, do you think the existing e-challan system is effective?
The e-challan system is an efficient system. However, we are facing some problems regarding the recovery of the fines imposed. We impose fines of around Rs 800 crore every year and our recovery rate is around 35-40%. To improve this, we resort to Lok Adalats. We have five Lok Adalats which have fetched nearly Rs 230 crore this year. No other state in the country has implemented such a system to date. It’s a very effective system, but as all systems work, it still needs to be refined.
Do you think your staff is trained enough to handle the demands of changing times?
Training takes place at many levels and our staff are well trained to handle the needs of their job as well as emergencies. However, we are planning to provide specialist training in traffic management at one of our police academies. This will be in addition to a similar school we have in Byculla.
What is the status of the Integrated Road Accident Database (IRAD) pilot project which was launched in Maharashtra in 2019?
The project aimed to collect data and analyze the reasons for the accidents that occur. Currently, it is used to analyze crash-prone locations and to formulate strategies to prevent crashes at these locations. Currently, Maharashtra has about 1,004 black spots. Of these, 610 are on national highways, 202 on national highways while the rest are district highways.
The threat of communal violence looms in various parts of the state. Are the police equipped to handle these incidents?
If you look at the past three to four months, such cases have not occurred in the state. We have taken adequate preventive measures and are vigilant in dealing with these issues. We have people who continue to monitor such cases on social media platforms and continue to write to these companies to remove the offensive content. Our community awareness and interactive skills with people have also played a role in ensuring peace is maintained in the state.