Promises of making the Pune-Mumbai Expressway fatality free follow every major accident on the 94 km six-lane highway between the two cities. But even after around 1,800 accidental deaths in the 17 years after the road was opened, some of the basic tenets of traffic safety are still missing, making the lifeline between two cities a death-trap.
At the time the government is projecting the Magnetic Maharashtra initiative on the lines of Make in India, the road between the two major commercial centres continues to be unsafe and snarls are a regular feature. In June 2016, 17 persons were killed and 43 were injured when a luxury bus rammed into two vehicles and rolled down a trench along the road.
After the accident, the state again promised to make the road safer and formed a committee. The committee submitted its report in April 2017 and suggested several measures, including implementation of a Intelligent Traffic Monitoring System (ITMS) that would comprise of technology-based solutions for surveillance of traffic violations, enforcement of rules and traffic management and a trauma care centre. Both suggestions remain on paper.
A building of the trauma care centre with two helipads and rooms meant for operations is ready at Ozarde near Talegaon since 2014. But the government has time and again failed to make it operational. In December 2016, the Managing Director of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation had told The Indian Express that they were in communication with the health department and had received proposals from private entities regarding making the centre operational.
An MSRDC official who did not wish to be named said: “Back in 2016-17, the process of making the trauma care centre operational failed as the government was expecting some private entity to run it like a charity unit. How will it work? Recently, proposals have been invited again. Those received, are being evaluated. There has been little movement on the implementation of the ITMS as well because there has not been any decision on who will do it.”
Tanmay Pendse, who lost his brother and Marathi actor, Akshay Pendse, and nephew in an accident on the Expressway in December 2012, has been working extensively on safety on the highway. He was also a member of the committee formed in 2016. Speaking to The Indian Express Pendse said: “When the government is talking about Magnetic Maharashtra, the state is second in the number of road accident fatalities. These are shameful figures. Every proposal submitted for making the Expressway travel safer — be it the ITMS, the trauma care centre and better medians – is stuck in red tape. Are we waiting for one more major accident to happen? I have been pursuing the matter with all ministers and officers concerned. But on the ground, nothing has happened.”
According to the data available about the accidents on the Expressway, between 2002 and 2015, around 1,550 people have lost their lives. In 2016, 151 persons were killed in 97 accidents on the highway, while in 2017, there have been 105 deaths in 89 accidents. A study of accident timings on the Expressway, conducted by the state Highway Police, has shown that around 45 per cent of the mishaps have happened in two time slots – 3 am to 7 am and 3 pm to 5 pm. lt was also found that around 99 per cent of the vehicles on the highway violate the limit of 80 kmph and cars touching the 160-180 kmph speed mark is not uncommon.
A senior officer with the state Highway Police said: “People and government think about the Pune-Mumbai Expressway only when there is a major accident. While it was supposed to be a lifeline between Pune and Mumbai, it has become a death-trap. Around 80 per cent of the accidents are attributed to human errors but human errors in most cases are caused by infrastructure lacunae, absence of surveillance and enforcement of the laws. The number of deaths can certainly be reduced by good emergency care that would ensure medical aid in first hour — the Golden Hour. These costs are certainly not more than a shocking 100-120 deaths and even more permanent disabilities every year.”
Pendse said: “Traffic safety has four key elements. Engineering, education, enforcement and emergency. We have failed miserably all four counts and are paying cost in the form of precious lives.”