The year 2014 alone witnessed 2.37 lakh road accidents on national and state highways across the country which had left at least 85,462 people dead and 2.59 lakh injured. These were the sensational findings in official statistics placed before the Supreme Court, which noted that as per 2009 data, India had reported the highest number of road accident fatalities in the world which clearly indicated that a road accident occurred every four minutes.
India can avoid the tag of being the “accident capital of the world”, was how the apex court reacted on scanning the figures of vehicular deaths over the past several years while stressing on the need for “proper enforcement” of law preventing drunken driving.
The apex court said proper enforcement of law was needed for a nation like India, which is on the cusp of economic development, to protect precious human lives from road mishaps specially due to drunken driving.
The remarks were made by the top court in its December 15 judgement by which it ordered a ban on all liquor shops on national and state highways across the country while making it clear that licenses of the existing shops will not be renewed after March 31 next year.
“Human life is precious. As the road network expands in India, road infrastructure being an integral part of economic development, accidents profoundly impact on the life of common citizen. For a nation on the cusp of economic development, India can well avoid the tag of being the accident capital of the world,” a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said.
The bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, took note of the statistics placed before it by the government agencies, according to which total number of persons killed in road accidents on the national highways was 48,768 in 2012 which shot up to 51,204 in 2015.
In 2014, there were 1.24 lakh accident cases resulting in 46,110 deaths and 1.35 lakh persons injured in mishaps on the national highways while on state highways, the figure was 1.13 lakh accidents in which 1.24 lakh people were injured and 39,352 had been killed.
“The expressways witnessed 4,208 accident cases, 4,229 injured and 1,802 deaths. Figures are also available of the distribution of road accidents by causes during 2014. 1.38 lakh persons were injured in road accidents involving dangerous or careless driving and 42,127 deaths occurred.
“Injuries caused in accidents due to over-speeding stood at 1.81 lakh while there were 48,654 deaths. 7,307 accident cases involving driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol were registered resulting in 7,398 injuries and 2,591 deaths,” the bench noted in its order.
The apex court further said that on December 1, 2011, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, in an advisory issued to Chief Secretaries of all the States and Union Territories, had noted that India had reported the highest number of road accident fatalities in the world and data of 2009 indicated that a road accident occurred every four minutes.
It said that in the advisory, it was said that drunken driving was a “leading cause” of road accidents as 27,152 road accidents was caused under the influence of alcohol in 2009.
The bench said that in another advisory of March 18, 2013, the ministry had stated that in 2011, 1.42 lakh people were killed in 4.9 lakhs road accidents and 24,655 accidents were caused due to drunken driving resulting in 10,553 deaths and injuries to 21,148 persons.
Referring to another advisory of May 2014, the apex court said that in 2012, 1.38 lakh people were killed in 4.9 lakh road accidents out of which 23,979 accidents were caused due to drunken driving resulting in 7835 deaths and injuries to 23,403 persons.
The bench observed that availability of liquor along the highways is an “opportunity to consume” and there are alarming statistics on the occurrence of road accidents which have claimed human lives and caused debility and injury.
“The figures which are available on the record indicate that the occurrence of a large number of road accidents is neither a phenomenon confined to national highways nor is prevalence of road accidents, including fatalities, confined only to the national highways.
“Both the national highways and state highways share a common experience of an unacceptably high number of road accidents, the prevalence injuries and fatalities; drunken driving being one of the major causes,” it said.
The bench observed that highways and expressways provides seamless connectivity and unheralded opportunities for growth of trade and industry and for the movement of goods, persons and capital and are the backbone of the freedom of trade and commerce guaranteed by Article 301 of the Constitution.
“Our highways are dotted with sign boards warning of the dangers of combining speed and alcohol. Together, they constitute a heady cocktail. The availability of liquor along the highways is an opportunity to consume.
“Easy access to liquor shops allows for drivers of vehicles to partake in alcohol, in callous disregard to their own safety and the safety of others,” the apex court said.
The bench also said it was conscious that policy to discontinue liquor vends on national highways may not eliminate drunken driving completely.
“The law on preventing drunken driving also requires proper enforcement,” it said, adding, “The existence of liquor vends; advertisements and sign boards drawing attention to the availability of liquor coupled with the arduous drives particularly in heavy vehicles makes it abundantly necessary to enforce the policy of the Union government to safeguard human life”.
The apex court passed a slew of directions, including that all states and union territories shall forthwith cease and desist from granting licences for the sale of liquor along national and state highways and all signages indicating availability of liquor shall be prohibited on the highways.
It said that no liquor shop shall be visible and directly accessible from the highways and it should be situated within a distance of 500 metres of the outer edge of the national or state highway or of the service lane.
“All States and Union territories are mandated to strictly enforce the above directions. The Chief Secretaries and Directors General of Police shall within one month chalk out a plan for enforcement in consultation with the state revenue and home departments,” it said.