CHENNAI: In what appears to be a volte face for the State on the question of road safety, Tamil Nadu missed out on recording around 22,000 road accident deaths between 2017 and 2020. Police sources had revealed this last week, in the backdrop of reconciliation of data on road accidents during the said period. In 2019, the number of fatal accidents recorded were 9,813 and the fatalities were 10,525, while the reconciled data pegs the number of fatal accidents at 17,196 and fatalities at 18,129. In 2020 as well, the fatal accidents recorded were 7,560, and fatalities were 8,060, while the reconciled data revealed the number of fatal accidents to be 13,868, and fatalities were 14,527.
Ironically, Tamil Nadu had won the award for the best performing State in road safety in 2018 and 2019 from the Centre. The State was also lauded by the World Bank for reducing fatalities arising from road accidents by 24% and 12% during the said years. The discovery of the data lapse and the reconciliation was carried out by the Special Task Force constituted to bring down the number of road accidents. The development has come as an embarrassment to law and order administrators of the State. A few high ranking police officials had attributed the mismatch in numbers to intentional data entry errors committed by personnel who were responsible for the section a few years back, in order to qualify for the aforementioned safety recognition.
But, the possibility of a cover-up was rejected by those in the know, who stated that underreporting such a large number of fatalities would prevent the kin of the deceased from claiming insurance benefits or even approaching the courts for compensation. These developments were made public on Independence Day this year, when a Class 12 girl in Chromepet succumbed to injuries after being run over by an MTC bus while returning home on her bicycle. Sadly, her body remained unattended for more than half an hour as officials attached to the local police station were caught up with the day’s celebrations.
Activists had pointed out that the student might not have endured such a fate had the Highways Department paid attention to the petitions filed by citizens who had urged for removal of encroachments by vendors and traders on both sides of the road. And that’s a reality that commuters across the city live with on a day to day basis, in some of the busiest stretches of the metropolis. To top it off, the risk factor of driving across city roads has been amplified tenfold these days, thanks to the multiple stretches of arterial roads that have been dug up for stormwater drain repairs.
In June this year, a banker was killed after a tree came crashing down on her car, while traversing through a stretch in KK Nagar where a stormwater drain was being constructed. While there were next to no barricades or signages warning oncoming motorists of treading cautiously in such zones, the authorities were even called out for not accounting for structures such as nearby trees that would be weakened by the stormwater drain construction works. It seems shameful that it takes the death of a citizen (s) for the government to wake up and embark upon reactionary solutions to deep-rooted infrastructure issues that have been around for years now.