SUV kills pedestrian: Just who is in charge of Chennai traffic?

The Times of India has devoted a lot of coverage today to the death of a pedestrian on Harrington Road under shocking circumstances. Allegedly responsible is a motley group of men driving around in an SUV. This road monster hit the 48 year old pedestrian, Dayalan, who held a modest job as a book binder.

After initially putting the injured man in their abominable vehicle (ostensibly to convince onlookers that they were trying to help), the men drove a little while on Harrington road and abandoned the bleeding man on what passes for a footpath. He was left to die there and his body was discovered only the next day.

The report of this incident published by the Times is here. Another accompanying piece on the plight of pedestrians is here. The shattering death of the man as narrated by his mother is here.

But we would like to go beyond the immediate question of this accident and ask who is in charge of traffic and road users’ rights in Chennai?

Judging from the comments made by Mr. Sunil Kumar, Additional Commissioner of Police as published by the Times, his department has only a cursory interest in the matter. In fact, he makes some aloof statements about the need for more pedestrian crossings (which anyway are solely his responsibility and within his power to designate) when even those that exist are not serving their purpose; he cheekily advises pedestrians not to violate road rules (which may apply to a minority of jaywalking road users, but is a preachy and insincere approach that grates in the ear for the rest of us).

Obviously, nobody in the DMK Government has read much about road safety, infrastructure designed for safety and so on. This sort of illiterate Government is unsurprising at the level of our political class, but does not the Sardar Patel Academy provide some kind of academic base to its recruits who become our police brass? ; going one step further, what is the sense of accountability that the Mussoorie academy teaches to its famed IAS trainees who become the bosses of even our IPS officers as Secretaries to Home, Transport and Public departments?

Just recall the death a few days ago of a man who drove his two-wheeler the wrong way on the newly opened Kathipara Junction Grade Separator cloverleaf because there were no boards to indicate anything. Obviously, the Tamil Nadu Government and its hand-holding UPA are not very keen about the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic Signs.

Our Dravidian governments (Kazhagams of every hue) are so thick skinned that even a report in the media about a man’s death due to official incompetence and failure does not elicit so much as an apology. You have the spectacle of a smug IPS officer inspecting the bridge the next day, in the company of the man from the NHAI whose job it was to put up the sign boards in the first place, to guide motorists. No one in authority even bothered to visit the family of the dead man and offer their apologies, or provide relief to the family. The middle class is in such a frenetic hurry, that it sanctions road rule violations all the time if it is self-interest. You have illiterate drivers at the wheel of powerful vehicles, speeding along without giving a thought to their potential for death and destruction. Such is the progress we have made with infrastructure building, motorisation and GDP growth in this wretched state (and, conceivably, elsewhere).

This shameful evolution of our cities, including Chennai, can ultimately be traced only to the stigma attached to walking on roads, a complex that all our leaders suffer from. How many politicians can imagine walking to a particular event, without the benefit of an SUV ? Not too far behind in this status display are our IAS officers, the IPS, the other babus and following the trend they set, our businessmen, doctors, technologists, academicians, journalists…in short, everyone except those who are at the very bottom of the social ladder. As a result, we only have cars, cars and more cars, a few rickety buses, antiquated trains, and of course, no footpaths.

We would think this is the reason not a single project conceived for city development has any provision for pedestrian facilities. No pedestrian subways are being built. Mayor M. Subramaniam’s lame announcement of putting up escalators at several places remains a ride to nowhere and people continue to die on Chennai’s roads.

This is the state of Dravidian-party rule.


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