“There is absolutely no security arrangement. You know how much the Delhi Police are active after this case made headlines,” said a friend of Anjali Singh.
Anjali, a resident of Sultanpuri in North West Delhi, died after her scooty was dragged by a car for over 12 kilometres on January 1. While the case triggered outrage over ostensible callousness on part of the accused and the police, concern about road safety in Delhi is no accident.
With a jump of 1,239 in 2021 over 1,196 in 2020, the national capital continues to record a high number of road accident deaths – some of them similar to Anjali’s. Consider another incident in North West Delhi last Friday, when a car hit a scooter and dragged the rider for over 300 metres.
While the issue may now be gradually fading from media coverage, the anger is still palpable in Anjali’s neighbourhood in Sultanpuri’s Karan Vihar. “Just take a look at this lane, no one can cross it using a vehicle,” said Babu Lal, a retired employee of the Delhi Jal Board, as he pointed towards the unpaved street leading to Anjali’s house. “We have complained so many times about the poor condition of roads here to our local MLA,” he said, when asked about accidents in the locality.
The recent installation of around five CCTV cameras in the locality hasn’t affected local mistrust. “You people (media personnel) are coming here so one can see the street lights working. They don’t light up every other day,” said Ram Dayal, a local tailor.
Six arrests have been made in the Anjali case so far. The Centre 11 police personnel on duty in PCR vans and at pickets in Rohini’s Kanjhawala where the mishap took place.
But in a city like Delhi, police patrols are governed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, while maintenance of roads built by the Public Works Department and street lights come under the purview of the Delhi government. Who, then, is responsible for hit-and-run cases? Newslaundry spoke to road safety experts, officials in the Delhi government’s transport department and road safety cell, and visited fatality hotspots to try to understand the issue.
Compliance of SC panel guidelines
In 2014, after the Supreme Court the Indian roads as “giant killers”, a panel was constituted to monitor road safety measures being taken by states, and 11 road safety committees were subsequently set up at the district-level across Delhi.
A letter dated March 29, 2022, sent to chief secretaries on behalf of the Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety, emphasised on the need to curb accidents and told all the district panels to have a virtual meeting at least every fortnight and meet physically at least once a month. It also directed that these district panels upload minutes of such meetings within 48 hours on a public website.
Members of such panels include the district magistrate, DCP or SP, executive engineer PWD (Roads), a project director of the National Highways Authority of India, and a representative of one civil society organisation, among others.
“As of now meetings don’t take place at a frequency of every fifteen days,” an official told Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity at the Delhi Transport department’s office in Sarai Kale Khan. The last meeting of the south district road safety committee had been convened one-and-a-half months ago, sources said.
“There is a footfall of almost 3,000 people in this office that includes faceless applications regarding motor license and we have to respond to grievances as well on as many as 22 different platforms. How do you expect us to take part in these meetings,” asked an official.
A human resource crunch is allegedly contributing to the problem. “As of now, our office has four clerks and one employee on contract-basis, for handling day-to-day affairs that includes attending court hearings. We need dedicated staff and, if possible, separate staff for road safety related issues,” said the official.
A road safety cell was set up in 2017 at the department, with a separate office for workers and a few consultants being inaugurated in 2020 at the Under Hill Road in Civil Lines. This unit primarily aims to mitigate hotspots, considered as high fatality zones.
Officials at the cell refused to speak on-record. However, some sources, who didn’t want to be named, told this reporter that while the last meeting for the North East district road safety committee was convened in September, the Shahdara panel held its last such meeting on December 27 last year.
However, the official website of the Delhi transport department has the last date of the meeting, with its minutes, as February 19, 2021.
Newslaundry also sent a questionnaire to the Delhi transport department about the irregular frequency of these meetings. This report will be updated if a response is received.
The question this raises is whether an accident like Kanjhawala could’ve been prevented had officials been more sensitive to the issue of road safety. “Ideally, if the nodal officer is the same in every meeting then the discussion is fruitful. But if the meetings are happening after a gap of two to five months, how can one evaluate the agenda decided in the previous meeting,” asked Anurag Kulshrestha, president of the TRAX road safety NGO and member of the road safety committees in north, central and west districts.
Existing fatality hotspots
According to data compiled by the Delhi transport department as well as the road safety cell, there were 69 fatality hotspots in Delhi, as of 2021. There were around six accident-related deaths at these spots within a 250-metre range each year.
When Newslaundry visited Mukarba Chowk, which topped the list of such hotspots, local taxi and auto drivers claimed speeding buses were behind the accidents. “As buses stop here one after another, we are often compelled to overtake them and that’s what puts our lives at risk just so that we can earn Rs 100 per ride,” said Sunil Kumar, a taxi driver. “One person lost his leg here in a road accident. I was also injured when a car suddenly came too close,” said Mohammad Ali, an autorickshaw driver.
It gets worse during post-office hours in the evenings. For instance, at the Punjabi Bagh Chowk, which features among the top 10 fatality hotspots, vehicles stray in all directions near the round-about despite the red light.
The road safety cell has been working on mitigation of such fatalities in as many as 15 hotspots since 2020 by redesigning such areas – Delhi Gate is among such hotspots where no crash has been reported since 2021. But progress has slowed since Covid, sources told Newslaundry.
Kulshrestha said, “95 percent of the responsibility lies with the Delhi government that’s supposed to coordinate with various departments, including for implementation of rules framed by the Centre.”
One of the other directives mentioned in the March 2022 letter issued by the SC panel pertained to regular forensic examination of crash sites.
This, too, is not being followed, according to a retired bureaucrat from the transport department. “It was supposed to be done in coordination with the transport department and Delhi Police, with an SHO giving information about such sites,” he added.
An official at the transport department told Newslaundry that the only standard practice after an accident is a technical examination of the damaged vehicle after the FIR. “All information as specified under the Motor Vehicles Act such as condition of lights, brakes, tyre position is fed into an internal online platform called IRAD (Integrated Road Accident Database) and shared with the concerned authorities by means of an inspection report.”
According to the retired bureaucrat from the transport department, even the position of Special Commissioner Road Safety was vacant for two months in 2022. While former commissioner OP Mishra was transferred on October 28, the new commissioner of road safety, Virendra Kumar, was appointed only on December 26 last year.
‘Only thing I want is justice’
Meanwhile, in Mongolpuri, Anjali’s family has shifted to her grandmother’s place in order to avoid media attention. “She would often complain of motion sickness while travelling in a bus, so she decided to purchase a scooty on loan last year,” said her mother Rekha, whose health condition has reportedly deteriorated since Anjali’s death.
Dr Bhupendra Chourasia, an activist closely associated with the family who has been running the ‘Justice for Anjali’ campaign, said three mails have been sent to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal seeking immediate help for Rekha’s medical treatment.
“My daughter was never into drinking. The only thing I now want is justice,” she said, lying on a bed in a two-room house, a cotton plug on her neck, after dialysis.