Road infrastructure project audits vital from safety view
Minister of Road Transport and Highways of India, Nitin Gadkari bats for process-oriented performance, especially for infrastructure related projects in the country.
Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways of India, thinks that performance audits should play an important role when giving firms contracts for infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, soon bidders for infrastructure projects in India will need to have at least a ‘BBB’ credit rating from a SEBI-accredited credit rating agency to ensure financial accountability.
Speaking at an industry event organised by CARE Ratings, Gadkari said, “More significant than a financial audit is a performance audit of any project. Instead of putting off making a final decision for too long, it is essential that one be made.” The government apparatus, he continued, faces a serious problem with indecision, and those accountable for it ought to be held accountable.
He contends that the credit rating agencies ought to approach the auditing from all angles, making it clear whether a mistake is honest or dishonest. Gadkari continued, “There should be a qualitative approach to it,” before adding that caution should be used to prevent punishing someone for a genuine error. Furthermore, the requirements for an audit or even the approval of a project shouldn't be so strict as to turn away prospective bidders and leave the projects in the dark. We need to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses so that we can rate things fairly, he said.
Gadkari's views hold significance, considering the fact that India, which has the second largest road network in the world at about 63.32 lakh km, currently tops the global list in terms of road fatalities. Worryingly, the rising number of traffic accidents — 4,12,432 overall and the resulting 1,53,972 deaths in 2021 — represents a spike of 16.9 percent over the previous year. It has come out as a cause for concern at a time when the Indian government has been raising vehicle safety standards with mandates like that of mandatory airbags, anti-braking systems (ABS), and combined braking systems (CBS), as well as the Bharat New Car Assessment Programme.
In fact, the percentage of fatalities in relation to total accidents increased even during 2020, when overall accidents saw a drastic reduction due to pandemic induced lockdowns across the country.
In his message, which is part of the MoRTH's annual report, Gadkari remarked, “Unfortunately, the worst affected age group in road accidents is 18–45 years, which accounts for about 67 percent of total accidental deaths.”
Gadkari stated that his ministry has undertaken a number of initiatives, including those relating to vehicular and road engineering, as well as educational initiatives aimed at raising awareness about road safety. It has been tasked with conducting road safety audits of all highways at all stages, including design, construction, operation, and maintenance. A similar mandate exists for road safety audits, the identification and correction of black spots on roads, the strengthening of automobile safety standards, and the strengthening of enforcement, among other things.
Furthermore, the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act 2019 has been implemented to meet the needs of the changing transportation system and environmental scenario. The amended law includes provisions such as increased penalties for traffic violations, electronic monitoring, and harsher penalties for juvenile drivers, among other things.
What Gadkari did not mention is that, despite its good intentions, the MV (Amendment) Act 2019 encountered numerous roadblocks because several states, including some BJP-ruled ones, refused to accept it in its entirety or diluted its provisions in response to public outcry.
An important element of road safety initiated by the government includes the setting up of a live data entry system for road accidents, which is being done through the integration of police controls, vehicle registration portals such as VAAHAN, among others.
Furthermore, road ministry officials have pointed out that with the assistance of its R&D in the road sector, it is updating the standards and specifications for road and bridge works for efficient planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of highways with a focus on cost optimisation, faster delivery, enhanced durability, safety, and sustainability.
In April 2014, the Supreme Court of India ordered the central and state governments to seriously implement existing road safety laws as one of the most serious threats to orderly human existence. The court also stated that it would monitor the actions of various government officials. According to the mandate, each state government is required to form district road safety committees for each district in their state in order to monitor and improve road safety standards. Accordingly, the Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety, the State Road Safety Committee, and the District Road Safety Committee hold regular review meetings. The Ministry, in collaboration with field offices, ensures that the Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety's directives are followed, the officials from the road ministry continued.
In June last year, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways approved the draft notification to introduce Bharat NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme), wherein automobiles in India shall be accorded star ratings based upon their performance in crash tests, factoring in the existing Indian regulations and driving conditions.
Gadkari has said in a series of tweets that Bharat NCAP will serve as a consumer-centric platform, allowing customers to opt for safer cars based on their star ratings, while promoting healthy competition among OEMs in India to manufacture safer vehicles. “The star rating of Indian cars based on crash tests is extremely crucial not only to ensure structural and passenger safety in cars but also to increase the export-worthiness of Indian automobiles,” he noted.
Emphasising that the testing protocol of Bharat NCAP shall be aligned with global crash test protocols, factoring in the existing Indian regulations, Gadkari added, it will help allow OEMs to get their vehicles tested at India’s own in-house testing facilities. “Bharat NCAP will prove to be a critical instrument in making our automobile industry Aatmanirbhar with the mission of making India the Number One automobile hub in the world," he added.
The development assumes significance considering that India, a signatory to the Stockholm Declaration, is looking to reduce the number of road accidents and deaths by 50 percent by the end of 2030. India has one of the world’s worst accident records. Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) suggests that over 1,20,000 people died due to road-related accidents in 2020.
This feature was first published in Autocar Professional's June 1, 2023 issue.
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