OVER 14,500 accidents have taken place on the 94-kilometre stretch of the Pune-Mumbai Expressway between 2002 and 2016, which has claimed around 1,400 lives, says a study done on the vehicular traffic and accident-prone zones on the Expressway.
The extensive study done by Tanmay Pendse—who lost his brother Akshay Pendse, a Marathi film and theatre actor, and nephew Pratyush in an Expressway accident in 2012— has shown how apathy on part of the agencies and negligence of drivers have together made the ‘lifeline between the two metros’ a death trap.
When the six-lane concrete expressway was completed between Mumbai and Pune in 2002, it brought down the travel time between the two cities by over 90 minutes. However, since its opening, it has not been free from controversies. Questions have been raised over the role of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which has ownership over the expressway and Ideal Road Builders (IRB), the company which has been awarded the contract to operate and maintain the road.
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In December 2012, Marathi actors Anand Abhyankar (50), Akshay Pendse (30) and Pendse’s son, Pratyush (2), were killed after the car they were in was hit a speeding heavy vehicle that dashed across the divider after the driver lost control over it on the Expressway near Baur. Pendse’s brother has since been fighting for the cause and has done an extensive independent research along with another researcher, Kaustubh Vartak .
According to Tanmay, “Over 14,500 accidents have taken place in which around 1,400 people have died on this stretch. Our study indicates that agencies that are part of the system have failed badly in doing their job. The onus is also on the drivers, who do not follow the rules. I have repeatedly met ministers, officers, political leaders but there has been almost no response.”
“Infrastructural lapses begin from absence of correct and legible signage boards on various stretches to lack of reflectors on the curves, turns and roadside rocks. These reflectors are essential when the air is foggy or there are heavy rains. There are no emergency response system (SOS) booths on the sides of the lanes.
Despite so many accidents, there is no full-time trauma care centre. The traffic regulation by Highway Police has also been poor mainly because there is no modern system of tracking. There is no facility for the broken down vehicles to park till they receive help. Owing to lack of service lanes, villagers on motorbikes are seen breaking fences to enter the Expressway, leading to accidents,” said Tanmay.
Tanmay added, “On the drivers’ part, overspeeding is a major concern. Hardly anyone abides by the speed limit which is 80 kilometres per hour. The vehicle’s condition is hardly checked and breakdowns are a concern. ” Both researchers have repeatedly met office bearers from both the present and past governments, senior political leaders but no action has been taken so far. “The blame game went on between IRB and MSRDC, as people continue to die on this stretch,” said Tanmay.
Reacting to this, a senior officer from the State Highway police said, “We have repeatedly written to the IRB and MSRDC asking them to install signage boards, reflectors, make structural changes at certain spots. However, no action was taken upon our requests.”