Do the authorities need tragic road accidents to activate them against blatant violations of over-speeding and drunken driving? On Monday, a press release was issued from the Traffic Police headquarters in Panaji stating that a crackdown is being launched prescribing a fine of Rs 10,000 or 6 months of imprisonment, or both, for drunken driving. Promptly, a special drive has been kicked off with traffic police and district police jointly keeping a vigil at night.
A day earlier, DGP Jaspal Singh, while admitting that the condition of the roads is poor, advised motorists to go slow and DySP Dharmesh Angle expressed concern over the alarming rise in the number of accidents on Goan roads while pointing out that in the 133 fatal accidents reported, there were 143 deaths. Certainly, there is a concern over rash and negligent driving, drunken driving and other road violations, and the focus is on motorists. However, the role of authorities cannot be ignored in the larger context. The accidents reflect an equal failure to rein in discipline on roads.
The horrific accident at the Zuari bridge has triggered off a debate on varied lines with political leaders showing scant sensitivity to the grieving families. The Chief Minister was quick to respond that 95 per cent of accidents in Goa are due to drunken driving. While it's impossible to comprehend how this percentage is derived, it is unfortunate that an untimely inference was drawn to drunken driving. Add to this another statement by Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho that the railing is meant to only withstand the impact of vehicles going at a restricted speed of 30 kmph.
A conclusion has been drawn that the Zuari tragedy was a result of over-speeding and drunken driving, but nowhere has the political class and authorities admitted a systemic failure. Drunken driving is, in some way, connected to the alcohol-related tag that Goa has, and given that background, there had to be safeguards in place.
While we take this discussion forward, one question that needs redressal is why are drunken driving checks happening in phases or only after fatal road accidents? Why is it not part of our road manning regime? What happened to the hundreds of alcometers that police were armed with once upon a time?
If we recall in July 2014 the traffic police had swung into action after a woman drove a car in the wrong lane under the influence of alcohol and seriously injured two persons in the process. In August 2018, after the State witnessed a spurt in drunken driving cases, the police formed around 200 teams that fanned across the highways and interior roads of Goa with alcometers in tow. According to information, the traffic cell booked 4,920 cases of drunken driving in 11 months of 2018, recording a 56 per cent jump as compared to such cases in 2017.
While the discourse has veered around drunken driving, the government too have shown a lack of will to clamp down in the past. If we may recall, in 2017 when the Supreme Court ordered a shutdown of all bars and liquor outlets within the vicinity of 200 metres from highways, it was to the pleas of liquor vendors and allied businessmen and also on the premise that tourism will be adversely affected that laws were tweaked to bypass the Supreme Court mandated Lakshman Rekha.
It’s time authorities stop paying lip service to road safety and begin cracking down on violations, seriously and consistently.