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Spurt of accidents in India – ‘safety first’ is a largely ignored concept

The last weekend of May this year saw a sudden spurt of serious accidents in India, killing at least 65 persons, injuring many others, and resulting in several people being reported missing. Bharat Dogra quotes world statistics to underline the magnitude of fatal or debilitating accidents, not limited to road mishaps, and makes a case for an efficient preventive policy

The last weekend of May this year saw a sudden spurt of serious accidents in India, killing at least 65 persons, injuring many others, and resulting in several people being reported missing. Some of these accidents highlighted a glaring neglect of safety measures. On May 25, in a fire that broke out at a gaming zone in Rajkot (Gujarat), 33 persons were killed and many others couldn’t be traced. The Gujarat High Court has termed it a man-made disaster, as fire safety provisions in the sprawling area were almost non-existent. The operators had not applied for a ‘no objection certificate’ from the Fire Department, and inflammatory materials were reportedly stored there. The case shows up the shortcomings in the state’s development regulations, endangering the public, particularly children.

The same night, a bus carrying pilgrims to Uttarakhand was involved in an accident with a dumper in Shahjahanpur District (Uttar Pradesh), killing 12 pilgrims and seriously injuring nine others. Over the previous few days, several other fatal accidents involving pilgrims were reported. In another shocking accident, seven newborn babies were burnt to death in a hospital fire in Delhi while five others were injured. The hospital’s license had expired. The building had no fire extinguishers or emergency doors.

Again, on May 25, four workers were killed and five others were seriously injured when a private bus rammed into two roadside shanties in Panaji, Goa. The driver was allegedly under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident and had threatened labourers with dire consequences if they complained. Medical help reached them very late. On May 26, in another fire accident in a residential building in Krishna Nagar area of Delhi, three persons were killed and 10 injured. Several parked vehicles were reduced to ashes.

At least three coal miners were feared dead in a rat-hole mine accident in Patkal Hills in Tinsukia District of Assam. A landslide sealed the mine’s entrance. Hundreds of illegal mines are being operated here – they are very unsafe and many miners have died over the years, but their deaths are often hushed up. On a happier note, a serious train accident on the Konkan route was averted by timely action on the part of a track maintainer. Trains passing between forest fires in Himachal also faced a serious threat but remained safe.

Many people consider only road mishaps as accidents. According to a WHO (World Health Organisation) database on worldwide accident-related deaths, the number of deaths caused by road accidents, while very high in itself, is still significantly less than deaths caused by other accidents. While deaths caused by road accidents in a single year amount to around 1.3 million, those caused by other accidents are about 2.2 million. These other triggers include falls, drowning, fires, poisoning, etc.

By focusing only on road accidents, we do not get a comprehensive understanding of the situation needed for policy. This becomes clearer when we look at the number of injuries and disabilities caused by accidents. WHO data tells us road accidents are responsible for about 35 million injuries and disabilities in a year, whereas ILO (International Labour Organisation) puts injuries due to occupational or workplace accidents at around 11 times higher, standing at about 395 million. Again, if we look at injuries and disabilities caused by all accidents, these are many times more than deaths caused by all accidents, and often result in long-term difficulties and complications. Yet, while discussing the issue, often only the number of deaths caused by accidents is highlighted.

It is important to make available reliable information and also to organise and present it in a much better way so that it can make the best possible contribution at both policy and implementation levels. What is of the greatest importance is to improve safety measures and to increase safety consciousness among people regarding all accidents, adopting a comprehensive approach to the goal of reducing accidents of all types. Just as disaster prevention and response authorities have been set up in all districts in India, accident prevention and response authorities should also be set up to reduce mishaps as much as possible. In addition, it is important to allot adequate budgets for prevention of accidents.

(The writer is a senior freelance journalist and author who has been associated with several social movements and initiatives.
He lives in Delhi.)