Chennai: Wrong side driving kills one, but that’s so normal

A man was hit by a Chennai Corporation van and trapped under the wheels on Triplicane High Road. To those used to hearing about accidents around the world, this might sound as just another of those horribly unexpected incidents that happen despite all the care taken by everyone concerned: motorists, civic staff in charge of maintaining roads and footpaths, police and urban planners.

Sadly, none of this was true when K. Vageesan, 34, an administrative staff member of a private company was fatally knocked down. The report on the incident in The Hindu is here. For one, the driver of the Corporation vehicle, Ramamurthy, 57, was at the wheel of a vehicle despite striking down another road user within the last year. The Additional Commissioner of Police, Sunil Kumar, strangely offered no explanation on why he was allowed to drive, firstly, by the Corporation and more important, by his department. Surprisingly, he said he would contact the Chennai Corporation, for action to be taken (since when is the Corporation prosecuting people or enforcing traffic rules?)

The Times of India’s report is more graphic about the response of many onlookers, who saw the dying man under the vehicle but offered no help. It was difficult to find a single witness ready to record a statement with the police, apparently because it would involve deposing in court, a process that involves time, one’s own money and perhaps some harassment from those close to the errant driver.

Six years ago, The Hindu reported a similar incident involving an MTC bus, which drove on the wrong side of the road and fatally hit S. Chockalingam, a resident of Arunachalapuram, Adyar. Monday’s incident shows that not much has changed over the years, although Indians think they have become prosperous, there are several hundred thousand vehicles more on Chennai’s roads and many policemen have passed through the portals of the Chennai Traffic Police offices.

It would be in the public interest if someone could file a Right to Information Act application with the MTC to know what kind of compensation had been given to Chockalingam’s family. I know that his father was wrecked by the accident in which his son perished, but I have the nagging feeling that MTC would have, as in many other cases, opposed the compensation awarded if any.

Of course, neither the Chennai Corporation nor the Traffic Police has any liability towards road users affected by such acts. In fact, the Corporation has allowed some cable laying companies to dig up many roads without ensuring that the ditches are covered. It has created many death traps around Chennai as a result. The Transport Department, which issues licences by the hundreds everyday, is even more distanced from the reality.

Perhaps that is the reason most drivers attempt to insure themselves by breaking coconuts at the Bodyguard Mariamman temple near Stanley Viaduct or other similar deities seen as potent enough to protect them. Others have pictures and/or icons of various deities on their dashboards. Pedestrians and two-wheeler riders keep such divine images for insurance, in their wallets.

I can only recall what Kamalahasan says to Asin in Dasavatharam in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami: I am not saying that there is no God, I only wish there was one.


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