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Friday, June 18, 2021

Dinesh Mohan, road safety expert who put pedestrians first, dies at 75

Mohan, 75, was an Honorary Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi.

Written by Aranya Shankar | New Delhi |
Updated: May 21, 2021 10:28:41 pm
Mohan is survived by his wife, linguist and author Peggy Mohan, and daughter Shivani Mohan, who stays in the US. (Twitter/etiennekrug)

Renowned road safety expert and Honorary Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi Dinesh Mohan (75), died Friday morning after suffering a cardiac arrest. He was hospitalised for Covid.

IT-D Professor Geetam Tiwari, who has known and worked with Mohan for three decades, said he breathed his last at the St Stephen’s Hospital.

“He tested positive in the third week of April. It was mild and he was being treated at home, but around May 6-7, he was hospitalised. Yesterday, the doctor told us things are looking good because he was off the ventilator, and said he should be out of the ICU soon. But today early morning this happened,” she said.

Mohan is survived by his wife, linguist and author Peggy Mohan, and daughter Shivani Mohan, who stays in the US. Friday was to mark the official digital launch of Peggy’s new book, Wanderers, Kings, Merchants: The Story of India through its Languages. The event was cancelled.

Incidentally, a day before his death, IIT-D’s Body of Governors decided to convert the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP), started by Mohan about three decades ago, into a full-fledged centre. “Now they will be able to hire 20 faculty members and expand in a big way,” said IIT-D Director V Ramgopal Rao.

An alumnus of IIT-Bombay and University of Michigan, Mohan started his career with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Washington DC, but since 1976, he was with IIT-D’s Centre for Biomedical Engineering. He did pioneering work in advanced motorcycle design, and highlighted the importance of the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.

Tiwari said that in 1991, he had coined the term “vulnerable road users”. “He said we have to worry about the people outside the vehicles, not just those inside. Though his expertise was in biomechanics, we all started working on pedestrians and non-motorised transport. He was part of all major national committees on road safety,” she said.

The duo were strong advocates for the bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor started in 2008 in the capital, which was junked after partial implementation. Abhijit Sarkar, who was secretary to several transport ministers in Delhi, said Mohan was a “committed professional and a very fine human being”.

“For him, the issue of road safety was not just a scientific or technological matter but also a deeply societal matter; a social issue. We would always use the term road ‘accidents’, but he used the word ‘crash’ or ‘collision’. I realised later on that when we use the word ‘accident’, we assume that there is something inevitable or unstoppable about it. But Dinesh knew these were not bolts from the blue; there were definite causes behind them. It was a very important learning for me,” he said.

Even those in his field who did not agree with his views said he was brilliant. P K Sarkar, retired from the School of Planning & Architecture, said he had many differences with Mohan. He said Mohan was critical of both the Delhi Metro — stating it was a relatively more expensive mode of transport — and the introduction of CNG for vehicles, arguing it emitted carcinogenic particles.

“We had many differences but overall I found him an extremely outstanding academician and professional. If there is anybody who is synonymous with road safety in India, it would first be Dr S M Sarin and then Dinesh Mohan,” he said.

But what made Mohan stand out among his peers, said Scholar Dunu Roy, was his equally keen interest in human and civil rights issues. He was a founder member of the Pakistan India Forum for Peace and Democracy in 1994 and also associated with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and South Asian Forum for Human Rights at different points.

“In 1981, he was among the signatories to the first of its kind of statement by scientists called ‘A Statement on Scientific Temper’. It was about the nature and purpose of science and its relevance to society. For him, these things (civil and human rights) were not separate from scientific temper. So if anything happened in Kashmir, Bhopal or Muzaffarpur, for him it was all part and parcel of the larger concept called scientific temper which he adhered to all his life,” said Roy.

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