Infrastructural Development And Public Safety
I have seen great consistency in the political mindset of our rulers with regards to ‘jo dikhta hai wo bikta hai’ i.e. our rulers religiously follow the idea of spending the public’s money on tangible and eye-catching projects. Take the example of the present government; the Sharif brothers gave us motorway, metro bus service, flyovers and signal free underpasses in Lahore while other projects like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and orange line metro are now under progress. Interestingly, the main focus area of the Sharif brothers has always been Central Punjab, especially Lahore.
As a resident of Lahore, I am a direct beneficiary of most of these luxurious projects. Due to my close affiliation with Southern Punjab and my schooling at Sadiq Public School, I also feel the pain of the Southerners – they are an isolated lot with a sense of deprivation as their most serious grievances remain unanswered. Even survival has become a challenge due to the scarcity of basic necessities of life. The so-called khadam-e-ala copies Zulfiqar Bhutto during his public speeches by shaking-off the microphones but has he equally made a sincere attempt to focus on food, shelter and clothing? The honourable Chief Minister of Punjab seems more of a mayor of Lahore rather than the Chief Minister of the entire province. So what happens when infrastructure development is channeled to a particular city? The inflow from smaller cities increases, people leave their homes and start migrating to bigger cities for employment and better standards of living. This is exactly what is happening with Lahore. Extension of the canal bank and construction of the signal free corridor is not the solution when you are attracting heavy traffic from all over the country in the form of new settlers. Under Article 25 of the Constitution of the Pakistan, every citizen of Pakistan has a right to equality. I seriously doubt that the standard of living of the residents of Lahore and Central Punjab is the same as compared to the residents of the remote and southern areas of Punjab. Is it because the Sharif brothers have no stakes in Southern Punjab? Well they do not have much stakes in Lahore either except for the fact that they are based here. I hope that logic will prevail someday and our rulers will grow up and take responsibility for the poor and oppressed from all parts of the country.
The increase in infrastructure development in Lahore is also leading to an increase in the population of the city. Road transportation is something that is deeply rooted in our daily lifestyle. It is an interesting question how disciplined road traffic is. I can safely assume that everyone reading this must have seen reckless driving, frequent change of lanes and zigzag overtaking on the roads. I am also sure that readers must have seen one-wheeling of motorcycles and other acrobatics on roads like Canal Bank and Main Boulevard. The issue of road-traffic is a serious concern for all residents of urban cities – it has a direct impact on our mood and lifestyle. For some odd reason, this issue has never attracted much spotlight.
After the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, road transportation (except for national highways and strategic roads) has become a purely provincial subject. The Government of Punjab has built roads and invested a fortune on infrastructural development yet road-safety of drivers is still a neglected area. I have personally witnessed several accidents on the roads with traces of blood of innocent civilians. Who is going to protect their fundamental rights to life and safety and human dignity?
The governing law in Punjab for road safety is The Provincial Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1965 (provincial law). It has been amended from time to time, however, the amendments are so trivial that they cannot keep up with the progressive speed of the society and prevailing circumstances. It is a well-settled principle of the Constitution that fundamental rights have to be construed in consonance with the changed conditions of the society with a vision for the future. In the case of Hurtade v. California, 110 US 516, it was held by the US Supreme Court that “While the language of the Constitution does not change, the changing circumstances of a progressive society for which it was designed yield a new and fuller import to its meaning”. The same approach was taken by our Supreme Court in both Nawaz Sharif case, PLD 1993 SC 473 and Benazir Bhutto case, PLD 1988 SC 416.
It is no surprise that in winter, Punjab encounters heavy fog. There is not even a single provision in the said statute which provides safety measures for fog. Likewise, there is no mandatory requirement to have fog lights in vehicles. I have never seen a traffic warden imposing fine for not having fog lights. There also is no specific speeding limit during fog.
As far as motorcycles are concerned, one-wheeling is an offence under section 99-A of the provincial law. However, the same law is silent on acrobatics. According to a study of motorcycle accidents in Karachi (published in Dawn on 7 September 2014) titled “Surge in road accidents involving mostly motorcyclists”, over twelve thousand road traffic accidents involving motorcyclists were reported at five different hospitals in Karachi. Out of these accidents, 528 people lost their lives. It is a tragedy that the ‘rider and pillion rider group constitutes the highest number of road casualties, covering more than 63 percent of the total casualty data’. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, there were 9,723 road traffic accidents in Pakistan in year 2010-11, out of which 5,420 were in Punjab alone. I want to ask our rulers about what steps have been taken to ensure road safety.
I am not one of those who merely criticize, I may not be very intelligent but common-sense tells me that helmets and sidebars are not the sole solution because they cannot prevent an accident even though they may reduce the chances of injuries after accidents. The more effective measure that needs to be incorporated in the provincial law would be to make the installation of two side-wheels mandatory on motorcycles.
With the installation of these side-wheels, a bike cannot do one-wheeling, acrobatics or even drive in a zigzag manner, which often becomes the fatal cause of accidents. The bikes will have stability and safety. The chances of flipping are lesser as compared to a conventional bike which can flip due to various factors such as collision, slippery roads, rain or oil-spill.
Human life is not less valuable than the government’s convenience. The introduction of changes in the road traffic system is the present need for better safety of our citizens. We leave our homes with hope and after reciting Ayat-ul-Kursi for protection on the roads but we are not making a serious effort to improve our traffic laws.
The road traffic laws of Pakistan are impotent to protect public safety. Enforcement measures like the imposition of fines and mandatory requirements like wearing a seat-belt or a helmet are necessary but insufficient. It is like waiting for the cancer to happen and then curing it with medication. Today, road traffic accidents are even deadlier than cancer – the former is capable of causing an instant death whilst the latter takes life slowly. The threat of road traffic accidents is taken for granted. The general view is to think about it once it happens. This has to change – I hope that one day it will.
An earlier version of this article appeared in The Daily Times.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.