It is a real pity to witness the daily struggles of the poor pedestrians on Mumbai roads (not much different in other major cities of India), one feels really sad that India has still not arrived as a civil society and a developed nation. Ofcourse, many of the readers would contend that India is still only an emerging or a developing country at best, and so could be excused from having to follow or adopt “developed country” rules and regulations, or human rights practices, etc.,
That would be just hogwash. Countless number of accidents happen on Mumbai roads everyday because we have foolhardy and rash drivers who do not respect any authority. There is a complete absence of civic sense, even on the part of the car owner-drivers, or even on the part of car owners who are driven around by their drivers. One gets the feeling that they couldn’t just care less about the plight of the ordinary pedestrians who are forced to use the roads (over 90% do use the roads as pedestrians).
On one side, you get bombarded by taps on your car windows by beggars, and especially beggar-children, who are deployed on the roads by unscrupulous beggar-parents who may not unfortunately have any independent source of income. It is sad to see very small children being pushed into oncoming traffic at the traffic signals, who pounce once the cars come to a stop. If you feel sad, and open your wallet, then there is a concerted attack by a whole host of beggars at your car asking for money. This in itself is heart-rending, you could see small children precariously positioned on narrow dividers in the middle of busy traffic junctions. One shudders what would happen if there are heavy lorries with protruding girders passing by. This is absolute breakdown of governance and poverty-alleviation programmes. How can governments ignore the plight of the homeless people ? What actions are being taken TODAY ? One can only wonder, may be aloud to one’s spouse or friends. The matter gets forgotten after a while, but one gets reminded every day on the roads. Gradually, it is only but natural that we grow accustomed to this situation and become immune to any beggar trouble. But, as responsible individuals, we must cause some actions to be taken by the government of the day.
How do we do that ? A big question. I don’t have any ready-made answers.
Further, normal pedestrians who need to cross when the signals turn red, or at a zebra crossing, can never be sure they would not get hit by a vehicle driven by stupid drivers. The white line which should be the marker for vehicles to stop at the signal is almost never there for anyone to see, and almost every driver keeps inching beyond the signal thereby disrupting traffic flow on the perpendicular road. Pedestrians have to be extremely careful while crossing, and if you observe their faces you could see the tension. Especially when they are crossing with small children. When there is a free left turn at a signal, no driver respects the pedestrians using the zebra crossing. It is the pedestrians who stop and wait for a break in the flow of vehicles rather than the drivers. Is this a developing country mindset ?
Why can’t the government take decisive action against errant motorists ? How come the traffic in South Mumbai appears to be more orderly and better regulated (though not upto developed world’s standards) but breaks down once you get into the suburbs ? Why is there acceptance of the lack of discipline on the roads, both by other users of the road and the traffic police ?
There is hardly a traffic cop on Singapore roads, or in most European Countries’ roads. In Mumbai, there is a traffic cop in almost all major intersections, sometimes on two or three corners waiting to nab drivers who make illegal turns. But despite their presence, irregularities take place constantly, or should we say with their connivance ? Or just apathy on their part. One can only surmise.
Law Enforcement should do their job without fear or favour. Motorists should be “delicensed” upon repeat offences. Cops should be issued with blackberries for tracking motorists (like what they have done in Bangalore). More traffic cameras are required to be installed. The RTO database has to be lined to the traffic police on the roads.
Progressive mindset is lacking, though we have one of the best set of professional managers in Mumbai, living and working mostly in third-world conditions.
I am sure something can be done and should be done expeditiously.
29th September 2008