Business, Economics and Jobs

Is India's showpiece highway a sparkling death trap?


Indian farmers block traffic on a national highway during a protest against the state and central government at Rayya village some 35 kms from Amritsar on October 5, 2012.



With four traffic deaths over the past five days, one of India's first modern expressways is facing new scrutiny.

According to the Times of India, the 23.6 km stretch of highway linking Noida and Greater Noida, on Delhi's eastern border, has been racking up accident statistics in its first decade of operations, even as the main developer of the area pushes its vision of an India linked by superhighways further east to the home of the Taj Mahal with the recently opened Yamuna Expressway.

As GlobalPost reported earlier this year, the Yamuna Expressway promises to transform the towns and cities along the route between New Delhi and Agra. Its planners project that the promise of speedy travel will draw multinational firms like Honda, Daewoo, and Samsung — which already have factories in a township outside New Delhi called Greater Noida — deeper into Uttar Pradesh. And, in a country plagued by woefully inadequate infrastructure, the project could well transform the economy of India's most populous state, and one of its least developed.

But the death toll is already mounting, as these high-speed thoroughfares continue to be used by slow-moving vehicles such as tractors and 75-100 cc motorbikes, according to the Times of India.

In the past five months, around 20 people have lost their lives on the Gautam Budh Expressway, as the stretch between Noida and Greater Noida is officially called.

"The expressway lacks emergency services like fire stations, tow trucks and ambulance services. The stretch has just two PCR vans, one at both ends — Mahamaya flyover in Noida and Pari Chowk in Greater Noida," TOI writes.

"With an out-of-order interceptor and just one speed gun, police on the expressway have turned a blind eye to speeding and have virtually given up on enforcing speed limits."

Meanwhile, "frequent commuters complain that the service lane, meant for fixing vehicles that have broken down, is often used for overtaking from the left — a blatant violation which often leads to accidents with stationary vehicles. Nearly 80% of accidents on the stretch involve stationary vehicles. But, in spite of the high accident rate, no safety audit of the expressway has ever been done since its opening in 2002."

As India rapidly builds more and more highways, look for these problems to continue, and for fatalities to increase.