It was a summer night in 2011 when 30-year-old Prakash Narayan was returning home after day-long work at a shop in central Delhi. He was hit and dragged by a speeding car as he was crossing National Highway No-1, which connects India’s capital with Chandigarh.
He was rushed to a local hospital by police where he had to stay more than two-and-half months. The ordeal did not end there as he had received multiple injuries.
“He was bed ridden for another three months when we brought him home. He was the sole earning member in our family. We needed to take care of three children as well," recalled Narayan’s father, Sant Kumar Misra (66).
In past six months, not a single traffic crash has been reported after a foot over bridge (FOB) came up both for pedestrians and motorcyclists. Installation of nearly six feet tall steel barricades also stopped jaywalkers crossing the road.
FOB at Prem Nagar, earlier a fatal spot.
But this happened only after huge and consistent demand from locals including many family members of road crash victims. People took it on to themselves to hold regular protest after the crash involving Narayan. “Protest became a routine affair every time a crash took place. People blocked the highway. But it took them three years to build it. If they had planned and completed it as soon as the work for highway expansion started, several lives would have been saved,” Misra said.
Industrial workers crossing highway at Kundli village
While united efforts of people living nearby this stretch found a solution to the fatal spot, there are two other stretches ahead on this highway where thousands of industrial workers risk their lives everyday while crossing the road.
Locals said crashes are daily affair and pedestrians are the most vulnerable lot at this spot, which is barely five kilometers away from the border of country’s capital city.
While major labour-intensive industries are located across the highway, the other side has huge unplanned residential blocks like Kundli and Prem Nagar Colony. For industrial workforce, these are preferred options to live there as these offer cheap rental accommodation, though quality of life is bad.
Indsutrial workers crossing highway at Kundli Village
“I never dare to cross the road. But thousands cross it risking life for their daily earning. Because almost all of them are migrant workforce they have no voice and they never unite to demand a safe cross over for them,” said Sonu, who works at a real estate firm located along the highway in Kundli.
Barely two kilometers from these spots, is another deadly crossing known as “Pyayo Manihari”. There is no traffic light at this crossing and none follows rules even in the presence a home guard, a paramilitary force, which does not have authority to penalize any violator.
“It hurts to see people not following rules. Recently, even a home guard deployed here was badly hit by a vehicle. Just expanding highways without making provision for safe crossing of pedestrians and cyclists is dangerous and no government agency should approve such proposal,” says Anil Kumar Rathore, one such home guard.
"While better surface condition is conducive for higher speed, huge number of people crossing these stretches make them fatal,” said R K Pandey, member (technical) of National Highways Authority of India.
Records of Delhi Traffic Police prove this. Traffic crashes on the 20 kilometers of National Highway-1, which falls in Delhi, have claimed 410 lives in five years (2012-2016).
Damaged rumble strips.
“The number of fatalities had reduced after rumble strips were laid at fatal crossings. As wearing down of these rumble strips happened, crashes and deaths have gone up. Putting in place speed calming measures cannot be a one-time affair. You need to maintain them and paint them so that people can spot them from a distance,” said Rajesh Kumar, a Delhi Police constable.
“We have appealed to the government that they should build less kilometers of highways and roads, but they must make them safer. Building unsafe road is a crime. In the name of increasing mobility, we cannot build roads only for vehicles without creating enough facility for other road users,” said K K Kapila of International Road Federation, a Geneva-based organization.
Dipak Dash is assistant editor of infrastructure for The Times of India. He is responsible for covering the Ministry of Road, Transportation and Highways. Dash has focused primarily on road safety, producing stories on such topics as transportation policies, car-crash tests and traffic offenses.
Dash has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Sociology from Utkal University in Odisha and a post-graduate diploma in Journalism from the New Delhi YMCA Institute for Media Studies and Information Technology. Dash has participated to several road safety journalism fellowships organized by WHO with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies