Right now we have different authorities for the safety of our rail, road, air and waterways. Let’s take a whole-of-government approach that would not get bogged down by turf overlaps.
While motorways being built by the government are revolutionising road connection, Vande Bharat Express trains represent the realisation of burgeoning expectations.
A recent WhatsApp meme depicted a commotion over the deaths of five wealthy people who died while diving to the bottom of the ocean to see the Titanic’s wreckage. In addition, it discussed the insufficient media coverage of the 750 people who perished at sea while attempting to enter Greece illegally aboard a fishing boat that was overcrowded. In contrast to the second tragedy, which focused on the hapless poor seeking better lives, the first tragedy was about wealthy individuals. Lack of safety precautions was a recurring theme in both cases, indicating widespread disregard for a serious issue.
Roadways, railways, airports, and waterways are just a few of the transportation sub-sectors in India where safety is a major concern. In spite of the fact that all of these call for attention, the Balasore train tragedy served as a clear reminder that railway safety also needs to be strengthened. Given the intensity of road use and frequency of accidents, it is necessary to prioritise road safety. Figures from the National Crime Records Bureau show an alarming trend of increasing accidents on roads, rivers, and railroads. In order to save the lives of Indian passengers, the current transport regulatory agencies must do more to reduce accidents, injuries, and fatalities on roads, trains, and waterways.
The entire nation’s transport safety system has to be consolidated under a single national agency.
The transport industry is expanding rapidly both internationally and in India. While motorways being built by the government are revolutionising road connection, Vande Bharat Express trains represent the realisation of burgeoning expectations. We now own the second-largest road system in the world, surpassing China’s (as with people) but not America’s. Regarding aviation, the slogan “Hawaai chappal mein hawaai yatra” (air travel in modest slippers) was created in India to capture and realise the aspiration of residents with modest incomes to travel by air, like their better-off counterparts.
While consumers and the economy in India benefit greatly from convenient and inexpensive transportation, safety does not receive the necessary attention or funding.
There are specialised national regulatory bodies in India that typically provide safety frameworks for their respective transport sectors, investigate accidents, compile safety statistics, monitor safety performance, and take enforcement action against organisations that don’t meet the necessary standards.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation has administrative supervision over the Commission on Railway Safety (CRS), which is responsible for ensuring rail safety. This is a great illustration of arms-length administration because it guarantees the CRS’ independence from the railways ministry.
In comparison to the epidemic year of 2020–21, which had 22 train accidents reported, a total of 35 occurred in 2021–22. There were 17 fatalities brought on by train accidents, up from just 4 in 2020–21. 275 people lost their lives and more than 1,000 others were hurt in the most recent train accident in Balasore. If we consider Indian Railways’ most recent track record, this was a freak incident.
The organisation in charge of regulating civil aviation, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), also handles safety-related matters. It is in charge of regulating the provision of air transport services as well as the enforcement of laws pertaining to aviation safety and airworthiness. Compared to two accidents in 2020 and one each in the two years prior, there were four mishaps in Indian skies in 2021. After the Calicut case on August 7th, there were no fatal commercial aeroplane accident in India. The DGCA does, however, take action against air crew misconduct that leads to a violation of safety standards. It maintains a close check on pilots who drink alcohol before takeoff or invite guests into the cockpit, for instance.
The Inland Waterways Authority of India is in charge of establishing safety standards, formulating policies, and overseeing and controlling our waterways. The country’s total length of navigable waterways is about 14,500 km. This includes creeks, backwaters, lakes, rivers, and canals. But only large rivers under the control of the Union government are included in its purview; minor waterways under state administrations are not. Despite India’s fairly tiny waterways industry, 270 accidents and 259 fatalities were reported in 2021.
The most pressing issue is how to stop traffic accidents. In India, a total of 412,432 road accidents were reported in 2021, resulting in 153,972 fatalities and 384,448 injuries. According to the World Bank, inadequate road safety costs up to 3% of GDP. A National Road Safety Board was recently established after a recent revision to the Motor Vehicles Act urged its creation. Instead of this board, we suggest the National Transportation Safety Board, an umbrella organisation that would directly report to the prime minister and be modelled after organisations of a similar nature in Canada and the US. The proposed Board must be autonomous and accountable for the overall safety of India’s entire transport industry. Its jurisdiction should surpass that of all currently in place regulatory frameworks for transport safety. This would encourage an all-government strategy unhindered by jurisdictional disputes.