School children and soldiers: Road accidents killed our brightest this week 
Tragic road accidents in Sikkim and Manipur

It was supposed to be a festive week for most people in the Northeast. Yet, as I write this, one can only imagine the pain of the parents who lost family members to the tragic road accident in Noney, Imphal. Even now, over a dozen girls are fighting for life. As we wish a Merry Christmas to all around us, there are several anxious parents waiting outside an Imphal hospital. 

But even before we had recovered from the Manipur events, news from Sikkim shocked us all. 

On Friday evening, 16 soldiers lost their lives in another road accident. The death of soldiers hurts us all. Their death in the line of duty is a price they are ready to pay, and the reason why we hold them in such high regard. But the death of 16 soldiers in a road accident should hurt us much more. 

Could we have done something to prevent such accidents, especially given the treacherous roads that are way too common in Sikkim? Maybe. But as we can see, it is too late now. Now that all top leaders have paid their respects, this matter will soon be forgotten. Because what does one say, except that it was unfortunate, and hope it never happens again?

As this story shows, road accidents in India can be the most fatal

The rise in road accident casualties has been a huge concern for policymakers and rightly so. Assam alone lost over 3,000 people to road accidents in 2019

However, I am not sure if our policymakers really understand what causes accidents. 

For example, see the following quote: 

“Government of Assam in recent years has given major thrusts in development of road infrastructure in the state. This has resulted in the growth of road accidents and fatalities in the state and has become a matter of major concern. The road accident data for the past few years is indicative of the growth in road accidents and fatalities in Assam.”

This is from a government site; you can click here and see for yourself. This approach, I believe, is both erroneous and dangerous. Erroneous, because it wrongly blames good roads for accidents because if that was the case, developed nations would be much higher in road accident-related deaths. Second, if “development of road infrastructure” is leading to growth in road accidents, should we expect more in the coming years? And how do bad roads prevent accidents? 

As a Sikkim resident, I have only seen too many bikers and drivers who lost their lives because they thought they knew how to control their vehicles. Sikkim, in particular, has treacherous roads where, truth be told, only the most experienced people should be riding. Yet, the reality is for us to see. 

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Within hours of the accident, the Manipur government banned school excursions in the state with immediate effect till January 10, 2023, to avoid any untoward incidents. I cannot laugh at the tragedy, but why till January 10? Pray, tell me what will change on or after January 11? And why only school trips? Why not ban driving for two weeks? Or two months? Forever? Just how we react sometimes!

Whether Manipur’s school children or the Bravehearts of Sikkim, no one should lose their life in such road accidents. I hope that 2023 brings in a sense of responsibility and awareness among those driving on the road. But I am not going to hold my breath.

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