Highways to the danger zone
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The growth of India's highway system over the past 25 years has been tremendous, but the increase in road deaths has been equally large. Yet, through all these changes, one thing has remained the same: the policing of India's highways. It is time for traffic enforcement on India's highways to evolve into an efficient, modern system of highway patrolling that can keep pace with burgeoning traffic and expanding road networks to provide a safe environment.
India has a road network of 4.3 million kilometres. National highways constitute about 1.7 per cent of that. However, this 1.7 per cent carries approximately 40 per cent of India's vehicular traffic and is growing rapidly. Last year, about 8,000 km of new national highways were awarded; this year this figure is likely to be in excess of 9,500 km. With this expansion in the highway network and vehicle traffic has come an equally large increase in accidents. As per the latest report of ministry of road transport and highways, more than 1.25 lakh persons lost their lives in road accidents in India in 2009. Road accident deaths have consistently been on the rise since 2001.
The system of highway policing in India remains much the same as it was 40 years ago. Policing each section of a national highway remains the sole responsibility of the state police, particularly the district in which it lies, and police stations along highways have few additional resources to handle their substantial additional duties. This lack of resources can have a great cost when it comes to human life and property. Since these police stations must handle criminal investigations and law-and-order maintenance as well as highway patrols, their resources are spread very thin. Police vehicles and staff busy investigating crimes or controlling public order cannot respond quickly to accidents on the highway. Further, police personnel who spend all day working on other duties may not have the time or energy to carry out the necessary night-time traffic law enforcement.