Performance audit of infra projects very important from road safety perspective: Nitin Gadkari
“Unfortunately, the worst affected age group in road accidents is 18–45 years, which accounts for about 67 % of total accidental deaths”, said the Minister of Road Transport and Highways.
While India is moving towards requiring bidders to have at least a "BBB" credit rating from a SEBI-accredited credit rating agency in order to participate in any infrastructure projects in order to bring about financial accountability, Central Minister Nitin Gadkari thinks that performance audits should also be given equal importance, if not more.
Gadkari, during an industry event organised by CARE Ratings, 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—a spike of 16.9 percent over the previous year—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 dip due to pandemic induced lockdowns across the country. In his message, which is part of the MoRTH's annual report, Nitin Gadkari, minister for MoRTH, remarked, “Unfortunately, the worst affected age group in road accidents is 18–45 years, which accounts for about 67 % 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, the officials 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. 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 continued.
In June last year, the Ministry of Road Transport & 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.
Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways, 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 1 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 120,000 people died due to road-related accidents in 2020.
In January 2014, the global safety watchdog released the results of its very first crash tests conducted on five made-in-India and made-for-India cars. The findings made headlines nationwide and brought the topic of automotive safety to the forefront. The results were a wake-up call for all stakeholders. But since then, there has been some progress. The government, which had long dragged its feet on safety, introduced, among other initiatives, far superior crash test requirements. Many OEMs have since incorporated safety features such as airbags well before they were mandated by law, as buyers simply wanted safer cars. And the results are there to be seen, as an increasing number of India-made cars are attaining better safety ratings with each passing year.
NCAP, which stands for New Car Assessment Programme, first started in the US in the late 1970s to provide crashworthiness details to car buyers. Since then, it has expanded manifold in the form of Euro NCAP, ASEAN NCAP, Korean NCAP, and Japan NCAP, amongst others. Each NCAP has its own crash-testing protocols, and their results cannot be interchanged.
Centre for Advanced Transportation Technology and Systems (CATTS)
Another key development has been the establishment of the Centre for Advanced Transportation Technology and Systems (CATTS) in partnership with the University of New South Wales, Sydney, and two premier Indian universities.
It will facilitate evidence-based decision-making in the prioritisation of projects, evaluating wider economic benefits region-wise and on the country, analysing impacts on the economy, selection of the most efficient solution for a problem at corridor/intersection level from among different alternatives, devising efficient ITS solutions to increase traffic performance, evaluating safety standards, etc. Stage-1 “Inception Report” has been submitted by UNSW, recommended by IIT Roorkee and approved by Project Monitoring & Inspection Committee for CATTS. Stage-2 “Data Collection” is said to be underway.
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