A ropecar named disaster

For a country with millions of drivers who do not abide by the protocols of the road, is it a good idea to try to operate a risky cable car service high in the Palani hills region of Southern Tamil Nadu?

Much as one might imagine the sophistication of a ‘shining’ India being able to have wonderful achievements, the sad truth is that we cannot do most things safely or correctly. (Some may cite our space programme as an example of Indian excellence, but that is an exception, international in scope and benefiting from inputs from many countries.) It is of course true that if the Indian government allows professionalism in its services, freeing them from political interference, things will improve significantly.

As I have pointed out in earlier posts, our toll due to bad infrastructure, road illiteracy, police corruption and sheer arrogance is nearly one lakh lives lost each year and nearly 15 lakh people maimed in traffic accidents. That has not prompted our governments to clean up the mess.

Therefore, it is worrying to note that the so-called ‘rope car’ connecting the Palani Dandayuthapani temple with the base camp is waiting to be re-commissioned, after the disastrous plunge of the cable cars killing four people not long ago.

As with many things Indian, there is not much safety engineering that goes into these systems. The temple has a winch system as well, which has also suffered accidents causing injuries. The Hindu reported last year that the cable cars were being fabricated by an automotive body-building company in Karur. This is a sub-optimal choice, because these body-building units are antiquated and do not have the resources to match current international engineering standards. They also have no known experience in such areas of engineering as cable cars. 

A look at the new buses introduced by the Metropolitan Transport Corporation in Chennai at great cost to the exchequer will bear out the rudimentary approaches of the Tamil Nadu-based body-building companies (many MTC buses have already suffered body damage and been ‘patched up’, the route boards are illegible from bus stops, while doors supplied by private parties in Tamil Nadu do not work in several new buses).

In the case of the Palani cable car, it is a serious matter that the project, inaugurated by the Jayalalithaa government, has been used a cash cow by the temple administration and indirectly the Government, without proportionate investments to improve safety and passenger facilities. These facts (and supportive pictures) are found not in mainstream media reports, but in blogs run by people of Indian origin who make a ‘desi’ visit and go back shocked and disappointed after their reality check.

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