Fifteen-year-old Sehwag stands on a patch of grass parallel to the fourth lane on the Yamuna Expressway, holding a thermocol box full of chilled water bottles. While he is on the lookout for thirsty commuters, he also keeps an eye for any accidents. “This one time a car overturned and people were trapped. Me and some others rushed to get them out; ambulances and police came 20 minutes later,” he said.
Sehwag is among hundreds of people living or working on the sidelines of the Expressway, who have unwittingly become first responders to several highway accidents over the years. Just two days earlier, a speeding bus in Agra plunged into a canal, killing 29 people. In the crucial first 15 minutes, villagers from Chaugan started their own rescue operations, dragging people out after breaking windows, before police and emergency services began to arrive.
Madan Lal (45), a bus agent in Jewar, can be spotted close to an underpass below the Expressway. In the last seven years, he says he has seen an accident almost every week. “Once a mini-bus had caught fire and a few of us rushed to put it out. In another instance, a car lost control and skidded off the road. It has become an unsaid responsibility for us to help out in such cases,” he said.
As per the UP Traffic Directorate, there have been 94 deaths in 95 accidents on the Greater Noida-Agra stretch so far this year. The 165-km-long stretch, called the Taj Expressway, was inaugurated in 2012 by the Samajwadi Party government.
Jagveer began working at a dhaba close to the Jewar toll three weeks ago, and has already played a part as a first responder.
“A few nights ago, a vehicle had rammed into a truck travelling at a slower speed. The driver was injured. It was around 3 am but people rushed to help him; in such cases, people almost always cross the barriers along the expressway to rush to a person’s aid,” he said.
Officials at Jewar toll plaza said first help reaches within 10 minutes, and have enough equipment to help victims. The Taj Expressway has been divided into two sections — Jewar and Agra. The Jewar toll plaza has 16 route patrol vehicles that function on a route of 10-15 km with an average response time of less than 10 minutes. Six of the patrol vehicles are operated by the police.
Officials also said a series of meetings are being held between the Jaypee Group, the UP government and the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority to come up with methods to prevent accidents on the stretch.
“Usually we get calls about the accidents from three sectors — patrol vehicles, police or commuters. We have our own ambulances as well. Depending on the severity of the injury, we rush people to the closest hospital. We also have a fire tender that is equipped to cut open a car in case it has been mangled. People passing by often stop and help out the victims too,” said J K Sharma, manager (toll operations and corridor control).