Pothole deaths: Change outdated laws, hold officials accountable for mishaps

Potholes on India’s roads have long provoked dark humour, manifesting in jokes, cartoons and now songs and videos. But it’s no laughing matter. It’s time to get very angry when people die or are maimed because of these manifestations of the apathy and callousness of those responsible for providing public services.

What can expose the insensitivity of the authorities more than the police action of filing a case of negligent driving against the woman biker who was run over by a truck when she swerved to avoid a pothole on a highway leading out of Mumbai on Sunday? And just a day earlier, also in Mumbai which boasts of the country’s richest civic body with a budget larger than many states, a coconut tree fell on a woman crossing the road, killing her instantly.

Any attempt to pass this off as a freak mishap would be to ignore the fact that the people who owned the tree had called the civic authorities and told them to cut it down, only to be informed that there was no danger of the tree falling.

Citizens across India will be able to recount similar tales of official indifference to providing even the basic services that every child, woman and man in a modern democracy are entitled to. Haven’t we all heard of people falling into drains and manholes left uncovered? Or of people falling ill because mosquitoes and other disease-bearing organisms thrive in our garbage-infested streets? Part of the problem is that there is no accountability.

The laws are loaded in favour of those who implement them and work against those they are meant to serve. Consider the case of the woman biker: Not that it is any comfort to her nine-year-old son, but will her family get any compensation as a matter of right? The family of the woman who died when the tree fell on her is planning to sue Mumbai’s civic body and it promises to be a long-drawn-out process.

Herein lies the real problem. Even 70 years after India won Independence, its citizens remain at the mercy of the administration, which continues to have a colonial mindset. People have to beg and bribe to get what is theirs by right. The contractor-politician-official nexus continues to subvert good governance. The power of the courts and of social media is bringing some change, but the pace is slow. Elected representatives and public servants should not be allowed to hide behind outdated laws and must be held accountable for their misdeeds.