GANGTOK: Road accidents in Sikkim are becoming a recurring phenomenon, with an incident reported nearly every alternate day in the tiny Himalayan state. The recent accident of students from Ranchi getting injured in a bus accident brought national attention to the menace.
In June alone, Sikkim accounted for 11 fatalities in road accidents. At least 25 people have died since April this year. Forty-four people have died, and 117 people injured in road accidents across landslide-prone Sikkim in 2022.
As per road accident data shared by the Sikkim Police, till May 2022, there have been 62 road accidents. The figures for June are yet to be compiled by the department.
Of the 62 accidents till May, 15 were in January, 10 were in February, 22 in March (during the peak tourist season), five accidents in April and 10 in May.
June was no better. The month saw 11 fatalities across four accidents. On June 3, four people died in an accident on the Lachung-Chungthang road in Mangan district. A few days later, two people died in an accident near the Naga falls area in North Sikkim. On June 15, three police officers died in a road accident in Dzongu, again in North Sikkim. On June 23, two army jawans were killed in Dzuluk near the Nathula border.
During the peak tourist season, when the higher reaches of Sikkim open up, the traffic flow of vehicles on precarious hill slopes becomes all the more common, and so do accidents. March 2022, for example, saw 22 such road accidents involving 28 people, of which seven died, 11 suffered grievous injuries, and 10 suffered minor injuries.
In 2021, Sikkim witnessed 155 accidents in which 56 people were killed, and 131 were injured grievously.
The first six months of 2021 saw 84 accidents with 38 deaths and 126 injuries, both grievous and minor. However, November and December alone accounted for 46 accidents that killed three people and injured 29 others.
The reasons behind accidents vary: dismal road conditions, adverse weather conditions, and ill-maintained vehicles, especially taxis. Then, there are the drivers, who are the easiest to blame.
A local driver requesting anonymity shared: “We are the men behind the wheel, but in Sikkim, road conditions and weather are equally to be blamed. When we head out to North Sikkim or any other remote location, the roads are not maintained. Most rural roads are not carpeted. Even in the tourist season and then the Monsoon, the road condition stays the same throughout the year. There is less attention given to road safety in terms of how a road should be. Most rural roads in Sikkim are like that. It is easy to blame drivers and say we do not maintain the vehicle during tourist season. Some of us do that, but even drivers get exhausted due to vehicle demand by travel agents during tourist season. Drivers ply with minimal sleep and rest, resulting in accidents often.”
A tourism stakeholder in Gangtok requesting anonymity shared, “Previously, travel agents used to define the travel itinerary for tourists plying to far-flung places in Sikkim. But now the drivers are becoming travel agents. They have very less regard for the tourists and their safety and are more focussed on making that extra money with off-field or impromptu sightseeing. They make their own itinerary with no guarantee whether they will reach these locations or not. Some may be driving under influence; some may be driving with little if any sleep, and that is often the case when accidents happen.”
Sikkim Police DIG Range and spokesperson for the department Tashi Wangyal told EastMojo, “We are trying to get more equipment like breathalysers along with a focus on road safety weeks to be conducted often. Road safety is in a lot of focus currently: we are checking on the vehicle conditions and conducting awareness drives on the same. Over the next month, we will be able to give a clearer picture of how we can go forth on enforcing more safety. Our SPs have conducted several meetings, taking the rainy season into account. But natural calamities are beyond our hands, like when landslides happen or roads cave-in. Our focus is on drivers avoiding night travel and taking good rest before travelling. We are trying to ensure no casualty or very less casualty. That has been our focus.”
Raj Yadav, secretary, transport department, Sikkim, said the state government had taken cognisance of the matter and is working on addressing the issue in multiple ways. The government will form state level road council and district-level road safety committee for compliance with directions of the road safety legislation, said Yadav.
The government will also promote state-wide awareness by dedicated enforcement agencies and 13 line department and NGOs. Awards and recognitions for popular Samaritans, inclusion of a chapter on road safety in the school syllabus from 5th standard and above, and weighbridges at strategic locations are other important steps that the government will take. Nodal departments will also rectify blind spots, Yadav added.
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