Deaths on roads and in farms

S.Madhusudhana Rao

If we go by the latest data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2014, two areas need government and public attention: road accidents and farmers’ suicides. With 16 deaths every hour, India has once again stood up to its reputation of being No 1 in the world in road fatalities.

The number of accidents (4.5 lakhs), the dead (1.4 lakhs) and the injured (4.8 lakhs) may be mere numbers for official records. But the trauma, suffering, loss of breadwinner to the family in terms of financial and social security and the overall damage to the national economy by way of health costs, insurance, etc. is colossal. While economic losses could be counted, there is no way to measure the impact of accidents on victims’ families. If they belong to poor classes of society, their plight is unthinkable.

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S.Madhusudhana Rao

The fact that there was a 3 per cent rise in fatalities last year over 2013 proves, once again, that motorists had paid little attention to road safety rules and driving norms. Speeding was the main culprit and accounted for 37 per cent of the total number of accidents followed by two-wheeler mishaps (26.4 per cent).

While it is an acknowledged fact that outdated Motor Vehicles Rules and paltry fines for traffic offenders are major contributory factors to the mounting road death toll, what is shocking is no worthwhile effort has been made in the last few years to strengthen road safety laws in relation to the growing volume of vehicles.

Despite Supreme Court intervention and setting up of four working groups to monitor and reduce road accidents in the country, their efforts have not paid off.  The areas the working groups were supposed to cover included enforcement of laws; accident-free engineering of roads; educating road users; and care of accident victims. While the four-pronged approach is tailor-made to tackle the issue, the problem, obviously, is with its implementation in letter and spirit.

For example, punishments given to those who have caused fatal road crashes show very few drivers have been given exemplary or deterrent sentences. In several cases, vehicle drivers have got away with what the public believes murder of innocent people. Drunk and irresponsible driving and speeding resulting in loss of life and limb are causes for concern in a country that has been adding hundreds of vehicles every day.

Given the condition of roads in urban areas and their poor maintenance by civic bodies, fatal accidents are waiting to happen. While traffic management is a challenge to the law enforcing authorities, punishing the offenders to deter them and others from repeating the violations is in the realm of law. In other words, concerted efforts should be made by all – government, public, judiciary and traffic police –to curb the alarming rise in road accidents.

Mercifully, neither of the two Telugu states was in the top five that accounted for over 40 per cent of road deaths in 2014. Uttar Pradesh topped the list followed by Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan. Similarly, Hyderabad’s record was better than many state capitals in road safety. Delhi, not surprisingly, topped the list.

But that was no consolation for Telangana. The one-year-old 29th state of India had the second highest suicide rate in the country. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, with 9,623 people committing suicides last year, Telangana was only second to Sikkim among states. Illness, family problems, poverty and indebtedness, dowry, unemployment were among the main causes.

What contributed to Telangana’s dubious distinction was farmers’ and agricultural workers’ suicides. According to NCRB, 898 farmers and 449 farm hands had ended their lives last year. With a record 1,347 farm sector-related deaths, Telangana ranked second after Maharashtra where 2, 568 took their lives. In contrast, the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh was in 8th position with a score of 632 farm-related deaths.

The high number of farmers’ suicides in Telangana reflects agrarian crisis in the state which should prompt the TRS government to start addressing the problem in right earnest. The reasons for farmers’ deaths have been debated innumerable times not only in Telangana or Maharashtra but throughout the country. Barring north-east where annual rainfall is relatively heavy, most of the states have agrarian problems. Delayed monsoons or insufficient rainfall upsets the apple cart of farmers who are mostly dependent upon timely rains. Loans from banks or local money-lenders and failure to repay them; natural disasters like floods and cyclones; acute water shortage; indebtedness; low returns on crops and high cost of inputs and labour are some of the problems farmers face throughout the country. These are all contributory factors to farmers’ suicides. But in the case of Telangana, since a majority of farmers are dependent on ground water, agricultural loans, availability of seeds, insecticides, fertilizer at subsidized rates and remunerative prices for their produce, any single or multiple factors can dash the hopes of farmers and drive them into desperation and ultimately to suicide.

It is obvious that the TRS government needs to thoroughly analyze the factors that had caused over a thousand farmer suicides last year and take remedial measures. Otherwise, there is every chance of the number of farmers’ suicides going up this year.

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