On India's Roads, Saffron And Green Are The Colours Of Danger

07/07/2015 8:26 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Mark Dadswell via Getty Images
DELHI, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Workers paint the roadside kerb at the entrance to the Main Press Centre for the 2010 Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi, India. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

A year ago the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) painted many of the kerb stones along the road and median in saffron and green instead of the earlier white/yellow and black. The timing of this facelift coincided with the BJP's win in the national elections and attracted much criticism. Here, the NDMC reasoned that aesthetics dictated this choice (the area under NDMC has many red-stone building) as did the fact that the municipal body's logo is green.

By this logic one begs to ask, why just kerb stones? Why spare the white and yellow road markings which includes zebra crossing etc? Interestingly, in one intersection (Mansingh Road-Prithviraj Road) one can easily notice yellow and black direction arrow signs pasted on the saffron and green kerb stones. This would lead us to deduce that somewhere NDMC admits that the "aesthetic" drive caused problems in visibility.

Now, the Delhi Traffic Police have asked that the colours be restored to yellow and black. The standard colours are provided for a reason - they are easily visible and thus help prevent road accidents. According to the Code of Practice for Road Markings, framed by the Indian Road Congress, road markings are a factor in achieving the greater objective of road safety. This would mean that any deviation from standards would affect road safety. Provision 6.1 of the Road Marking Code provides that yellow, white and black are standard colours for marking.

"In addition to violating Indian standards, the new colours flout the provisions of international instruments to which India is a party."

In addition to violating Indian standards, the new colours flout the provisions of international instruments to which India is a party. For example, India has ratified the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals (1968), an instrument that insists on the "uniformity of road signs, signals and symbols and of road markings" to enhance road safety. Article 29(2) states that road markings should be limited to yellow and white and blue (to indicate parking). Again in Article 29(4) use of reflectors or thermoplastic paint is recommended.

Road accidents and injuries are at an all-time high in India, mainly due to a lack of road management. It needs mere common sense to argue that in order to address this issue a step backward is not the step in the right direction. According to the World Health Organisation's Global Status Report, 2013 (access the report here), over two lakh people die in road traffic accidents in India every year. According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India, the number of deaths was a little less than one lakh forty thousand and number of accidents was nearly five lakh in 2013. This reflects the magnitude of the issue.

Road traffic accidents are a public health issue and one of the leading causes of deaths in the country. This would suggest that, like in the case of communicable and other diseases, road traffic deaths should be seen from a public health angle and dealt with in an effective manner. But the paradox lies in the fact that fatalities and injuries have only increased each year. The Union Government has admitted that road traffic fatalities affect not just the family of the victims but also the economy, as many young, productive people lose their lives.

There are several recommendations for a multi-pronged approach that needs to be adopted to address the problem. This was also analysed by the Supreme Court in Rajaseekaran, where the court highlighted the 4E approach (Engineering, Enforcement, Education and Emergency Care). The current situation shows the need to seek solutions and contain the problem at hand rather than taking ridiculous steps, undermining individual lives and road safety.

Now that the NDMC is contemplating to go back to the standard colours, one would hope that all concerned authorities in the country refrain from such counterproductive exercises. To sum up, the priority of the authorities should be in formulating plans and taking steps to address the issue of the increasing road traffic fatalities and injuries.

Nikhil G.

Legal Expert

Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the same of the Committee.)

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