The Congress on Sunday sought a CBI probe into the torture, public trial, and subsequent death of a second-year student, Sidharth, in the hostel of Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University at Pookode in Wayanad on February 18.
Nearly seven months after the inauguration of the Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway and three days after the worst accident (July1) that snuffed out 26 lives, the state government has finally woken up to provide public amenities and facilities on the monotonous road.
The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) has invited e-tenders for construction of “wayside amenities” with a minimum investment of Rs 50-crore each.
According to the MSRDC notice of Tuesday (July 4), interested parties must submit their bids by July 18, and the e-bids shall be opened on July 19.
Surprisingly, the MSRDC has given a five-year-long construction time for the successful bidders to build the amenities/facilities.
The development comes after the state government came under fire from all parties including Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena (UBT), social groups and NGOs for the utter lack of any public amenities on the ‘Hindu HridaySamrat Balasaheb Thackeray Maharashtra Samruddhi Expressway.
When fully completed, the 701-kms long HHBTMSE will connect the state capital Mumbai with the second capital Nagpur, slashing the travel time from the existing 16 to around 8 hours.
The Rs 55,000-crore expressway is currently operational for 600-kms from Nagpur to Nashik, and the 101-kms Nashik-Mumbai stretch is under construction.
Since inauguration of the first phase (Nagpur-Nashik) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Dec. 11, 2022, the expressway has been plagued with over 200 big and small accidents, claiming more than an estimated 300 lives.
The worst road disaster took place near Buldhana on July 1, when a deluxe sleeper-bus lost control, caught fire and killed 26 people sleeping inside, sparking a massive furore.
Barrister Vinod Tiwari, President of the NGO, Council for Protection of Rights (CPR) has repeatedly called for amenities on the expressway which has earned unflattering sobriquets like ‘highway to hell’, ‘killer highway’, etc. after a series of accidental deaths.
He cited a recent study by the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) Nagpur highlighting the lack of halts/facilities which results in a condition called ‘highway hypnosis’ that culminates in crashes.
The VNIT report of its Traffic Engineering Department students said that after long hours of driving without break, drivers tend to develop ‘highway hypnosis’, a condition in which he/she zones out while driving, unable to remember what occurred in that specific period, just driving without absolute control over the steering and paying no attention to anything around.
Even NCP President Sharad Pawar indirectly referred to this malady last week – which is the outcome of long hours of driving, tiredness of the drivers, monotonous highway, drowsiness with an inattentive brain, etc. – a cocktail for crashes.
The IANS had first highlighted the grave issues in detailed reports (May 4 & July 1), and the government initiated some measures to reduce accidents.
A Pune activist Prafful Sarda recalls seeing trucks and other vehicles parked haphazardly at many spots, women compelled to relieve themselves in the bushes beside the road, shielded by their family or friends, and truckers stopping to cook food at night.
However, Tiwari claims that the MSRDC’s latest response is ‘tokenism’ since it has given a five-year period for construction for the facilities – “till then, people should keep dying on the expressway”.
As per an official, the facilities that are envisioned are big and small hotels/restaurants, toilets, drinking water kiosks, ATMs, shopping plazas, entertainment arcades, fuel stations, garages, puncture repairs, etc.
The MSRDC has invited bids for the Nagpur (Mumbai-Nagpur) Corridor and Mumbai (Nagpur-Mumbai) Corridor on both sides at 400-410 kms and at 500-620 kms, on 10-12 hectares of land.
Tiwari and Sarda called upon the MSRDC to slash the construction time to three-six months, or the winning bidders may just occupy the prime plots of land without providing any facility for years, and ‘illegal service providers’ may mushroom along the expressway.