Survival is a hardwired instinct of all living beings, but then, why are we so indifferent to our safety? That is the logical question to ask, considering that an average of one person dies a day on the railway tracks between Beach and Tambaram (over 400 died in 2007 according to the Southern Railway), and scores are killed in motor vehicle accidents on our busy roads. Of course, life goes on, treating death or crippling injury as the unavoidable price to pay for a growing Gross Domestic Product.
The World Health Organization adopted in 2004 the theme “Road Safety Is No Accident” for its special focus on the subject. It is difficult to believe that the Chennai City Traffic Police believes in that kind of goal at all. If the report in the New Indian Express is correct, a fatal accident was actually caused by police on Model School Road, Thousand Lights, in his hurry to get a Corporation lorry out of sight near the venue of a meeting at which the Chief Minister was participating.
This is what the Express report says, “When they spotted the Corporation lorry removing garbage from the road, the policemen asked it to be removed too.”
The story of J Agnes of Tiruchi should shock the conscience of the city. This young woman died when the Chennai Corporation lorry was moved by an untrained worker, allegedly (and quite plausibly) at the instance of the policeman. The actual driver assigned to the vehicle was away “having tea.”
The Chennai Corporation was of course quick to pounce on the two staffers. The original driver Meghanathan was suspended while the man who was asked to move the vehicle, Simpson, described as a malaria programme worker aged 28, was dismissed. For the family of Agnes, a solatium of Rs. 50,000 was announced. A case of causing death by a rash or negligent act was filed against the man who was at the wheel. Could it not be argued that the policeman (if the story is true) is equally guilty about causing death by his rash act?
Of course, there is stony silence about the role of the policeman who “authorised” the movement of the corporation vehicle that ended up killing the woman. Somehow, policemen can never make mistakes in our system. They come in when things start going wrong and then again, only to “nab the culprits.” Their accounts would be more credible, if they can instal surveillance cameras on all city roads, and produce the video evidence in support of their claims. They will not do that because the evidence will then be in black and white. It would have been evident, for instance, that the untrained driver had been goaded into removing the lorry.
One would imagine that the death of Vagheesan, in an accident caused by a poorly trained Chennai Corporation driver, and now Agnes, would have led to a shame-faced response from the Traffic Police and the civic body about safety. Far from it.
Today, in Kodambakkam, I watched the employees of the civic body and Neel Metal Fanalca pushing giant pieces of earthmoving equipment into the small United India Colony Third Main Road, just as students of Fatima Convent were rushing into their school in time for class. The youngsters, some only in the primary classes, scurried past roadside obstacles and jostled among cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, minivans and the loaders and Corporation lorries, all jammed into a small space outside the school. The occasion was the impending visit of the Worshipful Mayor to inaugurate a campaign to promote “source segregation” of waste in the neighbourhood, starting from the school.
The campaign was, of course, to be pursued not by the Corporation staff or NMF, but using the free labour of the school students. The irony is that the students and the participating residents are unaware that neither the civic body nor NMF has a complete waste management plan in place to handle the segregated waste of Chennai.
There was no policeman in sight (perhaps that, in retrospect, is a blessing in disguise), and it was left to the mass of humanity to find its level in all the confusion. Any of the giant pieces of metal could have crushed the children, or knocked out an adult permanently. Which brings me to the original question: Are we interested in our survival, as sentient creatures are biologically programmed to be?