The joys of launching amazing highways in India will be still-born unless the users are made to live up to it.
India leads the world in traffic-related deaths. In fact the high rate of accidents and bad state of roads drags back the GDP by at least 3 points.
In the light of the above sorry facts, it is heartening to note the rather blitzkrieg pace of road construction and highway development over the last six years. However, it will be well-served to not uncork the bubbly just yet.
Even diehard critics of the government aver that if it really continues at this speed, in the next three years, the network of good road connectivity between many major cities and even some Tier-II towns would be almost comparable to much advanced countries.
Unfortunately, this is where the comparison might end. The reason is not difficult to fathom. Good roads themselves will not bring any change unless it comes with good traffic sense.
It is not the brief of this forum to castigate, bemoan or come up with I-knew-it noises. Rather, as an industry, solely built upon and surviving on happy experiences, we should underline and push for positive movements in the worst of circumstances.
Travel is about positive feelings and good roads are an integral part of that experience. It is music to the ears that with 36.4 km of roads built per day, national highway construction in India hit an all-time high in the 2020-21 fiscal despite the pandemic. In fact, the Ministry overseeing highways development built 13,298 km in 2020-21, which is up from 10,237 km in 2019-20.
Good roads and better traffic sense are the two legs on which development will stand. This is what the industry should be demanding (besides the usual support asked for in knee jerk reactions in extenuating circumstances).
The clamour for stricter traffic laws and their implementation should rise from our side. The least that can be asked for is no tolerance to traffic rule impingement on the new highways which are regularly inaugurated with much fanfare. Traffic and public behaviour on new highways can be monitored effectively as they are built with suitable technological support towards that end.
The best road networks will fail to remedy the situation unless stiff penalties ensure adherence to the law. The time is ripe for further fine-honing of the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act 2019 and Motor Vehicle rules.
The views expressed in the column are of the authour, and may or may not be endorsed by the publication.