Archive for ‘India alert’

29/09/2016

This Map Shows the Severity of India’s Pollution Problem – India Real Time – WSJ

A new map from the World Health Organization shows just how bad India’s air pollution problem is.

The interactive map, which shows the average levels of dangerous particulate matter in the air that can lodge in lungs and cause diseases, was made by the WHO in conjunction with the U.K.’s University of Bath.

It shows that 92% of the world’s population live in places where air quality is worse than the WHO’s recommended limits.Researchers used satellite data as well as information from ground stations to create the map. WHO data released in May showed that the city of Gwalior was India’s most polluted city, coming second in the world to Zabol in Iran.

The map plots levels of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in the air. The darker the red on the map, the higher the concentration. The PM2.5 pollutants, which come from dust, soot and smoke, can penetrate deep into the lungs and increase the risk of heart and lung diseases including asthma and lung cancer.

The map paints a dark swathe of red across northern India, meaning that the annual average PM2.5 levels are above 70. The country gets progressively lighter in color toward the south, indicating lower pollution levels. But not one spot of the country is green–indicating healthy air.

A man sifted through trash at a massive garbage site in New Delhi, Sept. 27, 2016. PHOTO: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

India’s capital, New Delhi, is the 11th worst polluted in the world, with an annual average PM2.5 measurement of 122. Mumbai is another hotspot, with an average PM.2.5 level of 63.

The World Health Organization said that worldwide, around 3 million people a year die of causes linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution and that nearly 90% of those deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

In India, air pollution comes from a number of sources, including the burning of trash, the use of coal for cooking, factories and exhaust fumes. In some parts of the country, like Delhi, dust storms exacerbate the problem. The Delhi government has made efforts to reduce car use, but experts say more needs to be done.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” Flavia Bustreo, assistant director general at WHO said in the report. “Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions.”

Source: This Map Shows the Severity of India’s Pollution Problem – India Real Time – WSJ

28/09/2016

This Is How India Is Keeping Its Place as Asia’s Fastest-Growing Large Economy – India Real Time – WSJ

What a contrast! See pair of articles – this on on India, the other on China, both from WSJ.

India is on track to keep its spot as Asia’s fastest-growing large economy, the Asian Development Bank said Tuesday.

The Manila-based development lender expects the Indian economy to grow by 7.4% in the year that ends next March, keeping its earlier forecast unchanged in an update to its regional outlook.

The ADB lifted its forecast for China’s growth this calendar year slightly, to 6.6%, but it still expects India’s economic growth to broadly outpace its neighbors’ through 2017. (The comparison isn’t exact. India and other South Asian countries report economic data on a fiscal-year basis. China and others use calendar years.) In Asia, only Myanmar, which is opening up after decades of isolation but remains small by comparison, is expected to expand more quickly, at 8.4%.

The ADB said India’s growth prospects have been buoyed thanks to the enactment of “long-awaited structural reform.”

The bank lauded “strong progress” in restructuring Indian lenders’ balance sheets, which for years have been weighed down by bad loans. Large corporations are also finding ways to reduce debt, the bank said, which could also help resuscitate long-stagnant lending and investment.

Recent legislation that creates a national goods-and-services tax, the ADB said, is “a key step toward a much more integrated, productive economy.”

Other factors, the bank said, should keep Indian consumers spending.Government workers are due to receive a big boost to their pay and pensions, while abundant monsoon rains this summer will likely lift rural incomes.

There are risks, though, the ADB said.

Much of India’s recent growth has been driven by government spending. But that has slowed after a burst of public investment last year. New Delhi this financial year wants to shrink its budget deficit, but so far, it hasn’t raised as much money as expected from selling off stakes in state companies and other assets. That means expenditure may need to be reined in even further.Investment by private companies, meanwhile, has been “listless,” the ADB said.

Foreign direct investment in India has remained strong, the bank noted, and New Delhi has been raising limits on foreigners’ stakes in Indian enterprises. But the $63 billion flood of foreign investment seen last year “would be difficult to replicate,” the bank said.

Rapid price growth, too, could continue to weigh on Indian consumers and investors. Inflation in India, which the ADB forecasts at 5.4% this year, remains among the highest in Asia.The nation’s central bank is now actively mandated, for the first time in its history, to keep consumer inflation within a government-set range. “While this is a ground-breaking monetary policy reform, the target of 4% would seem somewhat ambitious,” the bank said.

Source: This Is How India Is Keeping Its Place as Asia’s Fastest-Growing Large Economy – India Real Time – WSJ

27/09/2016

What India’s Decision to Ratify Paris Climate-Change Pact Means – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s announcement that it would ratify the 2015 global agreement on climate change increases the chances that the pact will go into effect this year.

Source: What India’s Decision to Ratify Paris Climate-Change Pact Means – India Real Time – WSJ

25/09/2016

Culture: Chinese, Indian and Japanese

I’ve just finished watching a short six-part series featuring Joanna Lumley on her trip from near the northern-most tip to the southern-most island of Japan – http://www.itv.com/hub/joanna-lumleys-japan/2a4327a0001. If, like me, you have not been to Japan but are curious about that mysterious far eastern country, then this show is well worth investing six hours of your time.

But the reason I’m raising it here on my blog is that to me it shows in stark contrast the three cultures today: Chinese, Indian and Japanese.

The series illustrate, without a shadow of doubt, that the Japanese have somehow managed to retain most of its old traditions and culture while adopting much of (the best of ) Western culture.The two co-exist happily and without any visible friction.  For example, young girls in traditional kimono are shown visiting the famous cherry blossom festival, alongside Japanese in plain western clothing. Or modern, educated Japanese taking time off to do a multi-temple pilgrimage (see Lumley photo). 

The Chinese, in my opinion, have (certainly in urban areas) disbanded most of their traditional and culture – apart from a few national festivals – and adopted western customs and culture wholesale. Apart from a few speialist travelogue TV series on rural China (http://watchdocumentary.org/watch/wild-china-episode-01-heart-of-the-dragon-video_3a9158d41.html), any TV show on China reveals mainly western modernity.

And finally, my take on Indian culture is that it has not moved far from what has been prevalent over the centuries, apart from a thin veneer of western culture and customs such as car ownership (see India on Wheels – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b013q5y0) and western clothing or education for the upper class in the English language.

I would really like to hear from you, my blog readers, on this subject, hopefully based on personal experience rather than based on a TV programme!

 

23/09/2016

Guns and ghee | The Economist

TO MANY Indians, their country’s strategic position looks alarming. Its two biggest neighbours are China and Pakistan. It has fought wars with both, and border issues still fester. Both are nuclear-armed, and are allies with one another to boot. China, a rising superpower with five times India’s GDP, is quietly encroaching on India’s traditional sphere of influence, tying a “string of pearls” of alliances around the subcontinent. Relatively weak but safe behind its nuclear shield, Pakistan harbours Islamist guerrillas who have repeatedly struck Indian targets; regional security wonks have long feared that another such incident might spark a conflagration.

So when four heavily armed infiltrators attacked an Indian army base on September 18th, killing 18 soldiers before being shot dead themselves, jitters inevitably spread. The base nestles in mountains close to the “line of control”, as the border between the Indian and Pakistani-administered parts of the disputed territory of Kashmir is known. Indian officials reflexively blamed Pakistan; politicians and pundits vied in demanding a punchy response. “Every Pakistan post through which infiltration takes place should be reduced to rubble by artillery fire,” blustered a retired brigadier who now mans a think-tank in New Delhi, India’s capital.

Yet despite electoral promises to be tough on Pakistan, the Hindu-nationalist government of Narendra Modi has trodden as softly as its predecessors. On September 21st it summoned Pakistan’s envoy for a wrist-slap, citing evidence that the attackers had indeed slipped across the border, and noting that India has stopped 17 such incursions since the beginning of the year. Much to the chagrin of India’s armchair warriors, such polite reprimands are likely to be the limit of India’s response.

There are good reasons for this. India gains diplomatic stature by behaving more responsibly than Pakistan. It is keenly aware of the danger of nuclear escalation, and of the risks of brinkmanship to its economy. Indian intelligence agencies also understand that they face an unusual adversary in Pakistan: such is its political frailty that any Indian belligerence tends to strengthen exactly the elements in Pakistan’s power structure that are most inimical to India’s own interests.

But there is another, less obvious reason for reticence. India is not as strong militarily as the numbers might suggest. Puzzlingly, given how its international ambitions are growing along with its economy, and how alarming its strategic position looks, India has proved strangely unable to build serious military muscle.

India’s armed forces look good on paper. It fields the world’s second-biggest standing army, after China, with long fighting experience in a variety of terrains and situations (see chart).

It has topped the list of global arms importers since 2010, sucking in a formidable array of top-of-the-line weaponry, including Russian warplanes, Israeli missiles, American transport aircraft and French submarines. State-owned Indian firms churn out some impressive gear, too, including fighter jets, cruise missiles and the 40,000-tonne aircraft-carrier under construction in a shipyard in Kochi, in the south of the country.

Yet there are serious chinks in India’s armour. Much of its weaponry is, in fact, outdated or ill maintained. “Our air defence is in a shocking state,” says Ajai Shukla, a commentator on military affairs. “What’s in place is mostly 1970s vintage, and it may take ten years to install the fancy new gear.” On paper, India’s air force is the world’s fourth largest, with around 2,000 aircraft in service. But an internal report seen in 2014 by IHS Jane’s, a defence publication, revealed that only 60% were typically fit to fly. A report earlier this year by a government accounting agency estimated that the “serviceability” of the 45 MiG 29K jets that are the pride of the Indian navy’s air arm ranged between 16% and 38%. They were intended to fly from the carrier currently under construction, which was ordered more than 15 years ago and was meant to have been launched in 2010. According to the government’s auditors the ship, after some 1,150 modifications, now looks unlikely to sail before 2023.

Such delays are far from unusual. India’s army, for instance, has been seeking a new standard assault rifle since 1982; torn between demands for local production and the temptation of fancy imports, and between doctrines calling for heavier firepower or more versatility, it has flip-flopped ever since. India’s air force has spent 16 years perusing fighter aircraft to replace ageing Soviet-era models. By demanding over-ambitious specifications, bargain prices, hard-to-meet local-content quotas and so on, it has left foreign manufacturers “banging heads against the wall”, in the words of one Indian military analyst. Four years ago France appeared to have clinched a deal to sell 126 of its Rafale fighters. The order has since been whittled to 36, but is at least about to be finalised.

India’s military is also scandal-prone. Corruption has been a problem in the past, and observers rightly wonder how guerrillas manage to penetrate heavily guarded bases repeatedly. Lately the Indian public has been treated to legal battles between generals over promotions, loud disputes over pay and orders for officers to lose weight. In July a military transport plane vanished into the Bay of Bengal with 29 people aboard; no trace of it has been found. In August an Australian newspaper leaked extensive technical details of India’s new French submarines.

The deeper problem with India’s military is structural. The three services are each reasonably competent, say security experts; the trouble is that they function as separate fiefdoms. “No service talks to the others, and the civilians in the Ministry of Defence don’t talk to them,” says Mr Shukla. Bizarrely, there are no military men inside the ministry at all. Like India’s other ministries, defence is run by rotating civil servants and political appointees more focused on ballot boxes than ballistics. “They seem to think a general practitioner can perform surgery,” says Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, who has worked as a consultant for the ministry. Despite their growing brawn, India’s armed forces still lack a brain.

Source: Guns and ghee | The Economist

23/09/2016

India signs deal for 36 French fighter jets to counter China, Pakistan squadrons | Reuters

India signed a deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France on Friday for around $8.7 billion, the country’s first major acquisition of combat planes in two decades and a boost for Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s plan to rebuild an ageing fleet.

The air force is down to 33 squadrons, against its requirement of 45 to face both China, with which it has a festering border dispute, and nuclear-armed rival Pakistan.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian signed the agreement with his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar, in New Delhi, ending almost 18 months of wrangling over terms between New Delhi and manufacturer Dassault Aviation.

India’s defence ministry said it would confirm the exact price later on Friday, but a ministry official said it was 7.8 billion euros ($8.7 billion).

Air force officials have warned for years about a major capability gap opening up with China and Pakistan without new state-of-the-art planes, as India’s outdated and largely Russian-made fleet retires and production of a locally made plane was delayed.

India had originally awarded Dassault with an order for 126 Rafales in 2012 after the twin-engine fourth-generation fighter beat rivals in a decade-long selection process, but subsequent talks collapsed.

Modi, who has vowed to modernise India’s armed forces with a $150 billion spending spree, personally intervened in April 2015 to agree on the smaller order of 36 and give the air force a near-term boost as he weighed options for a more fundamental overhaul.

The first ready-to-fly Rafales are expected to arrive by 2019 and India is set to have all 36 within six years.

Dassault Aviation said in a statement it welcomed the contract signing.

($1 = 0.8920 euros)

Source: India signs deal for 36 French fighter jets to counter China, Pakistan squadrons | Reuters

23/09/2016

Indian-Born Biologist Is Among MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Winners – India Real Time – WSJ

Manu Prakash grew up folding origami paper frogs and cranes in his hometown in northern India.

Indian-Born Biologist Is Among MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Winners

So it seemed natural for the 36-year-old Stanford University biologist to build an inexpensive microscope for the developing world that can be put together from a single piece of paper.“

I was inspired by tools like pencils, and what it takes to make those tools available to everyone,” he said. “The goal is to enable and inspire others to do science.”

His Foldscope, which costs less than $1 to produce and includes built-in lenses, is now used in 130 countries to help identify infectious diseases, among other things.

The gadget helped propel Mr. Prakash, along with 22 others, into the ranks of the MacArthur “genius” grant recipients, who are awarded a no-strings-attached $625,000 grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for showing exemplary creativity in their fields.

Source: Indian-Born Biologist Is Among MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Winners – India Real Time – WSJ

17/09/2016

India’s Craze for Ayurveda Is Producing Billionaires – India Real Time – WSJ

A yoga teacher clad in white robes and often seen meditating on the banks of the Ganges is the latest to join the billionaires club in India.

But Acharya Balkrishna is no ordinary yoga teacher. He controls Patanjali Ayurved Ltd., the consumer-products company founded by his guru, Baba Ramdev, and whose Ayurvedic soaps, shampoos and food supplements are increasingly becoming staples in middle-class Indian homes. Indians’ craze for the company’s Ayurvedic formulations has seen Mr. Acharya’s net worth skyrocket to $3.8 billion, according to Hurun’s India Rich List for 2016. That puts him at number 25 in Hurun’s list of richest Indians, ahead of industrialists like Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej and Anand Mahindra.

Such is the demand for Patanjali, which sells creams, cleaners and hair conditioners rooted in Ayurveda, India’s traditional system of medicine, that the world’s biggest consumer-products makers are tweaking their products to compete. India’s traditional system of medicine encourages therapies like yoga and believes everything from the common cold to diabetes can be fixed by certain herbs, foods and oils.

Colgate Palmolive last month launched a toothpaste flavored with basil, clove and lemon. L’Oréal SA in June launched a new range of shampoos infused with eucalyptus, green tea and henna, an Indian herb Patanjali also packs in its shampoo. Unilever PLC recently purchased an Ayurvedic hair-care company.

Mr. Balkrishna is a reclusive figure next to Mr. Ramdev, one of India’s best-known yoga teachers who founded Patanjali in 2006 and has since transformed it into a multi-million dollar consumer goods empire. Mr. Balkrishna controls the business because Mr. Ramdev has sworn off most trappings of wealth.

Messrs. Ramdev and Balkrishna are regularly seen practicing yoga on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar, the Hindu holy city where Patanjali is based and where they run an ashram.

Ayurveda has produced other billionaires, too. The Burman family which runs Dabur India, another consumer-goods maker that draws inspiration from traditional Indian medicine, is 13th on Hurun’s India rich list.

Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, is the richest Indian with a net worth of $24 billion. Dilip Shanghvi, who heads generics-drug maker Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, is second with $18 billion in his kitty.

Source: India’s Craze for Ayurveda Is Producing Billionaires – India Real Time – WSJ

15/09/2016

Why water war has broken out in India’s Silicon Valley – BBC News

On Monday afternoon, a school bus was stopped in the Banashankari area in southern Bangalore. Three drunk men got into the bus and asked aloud: “Which child belongs to Karnataka and and which child belongs to Tamil Nadu?”

The 15-odd students, aged between 10 and 14, were stunned. Their school had asked them to leave early because the situation was tense, with violence and arson breaking out in many parts of the city.

“Luckily the driver handled it tactfully. He told the intruders that everyone was a native of Bangalore and that their families supported Karnataka on [water sharing with] Cauvery,” said a parent, not wanting to be identified.

Battle for access

By dusk, dark smoke had filled the Bangalore skies. Some 35 buses had been set on fire by protesters, just because the buses belonged to a travel agency whose owner is Tamil.

Is India facing its worst-ever water crisis?

India to ‘divert rivers’ to tackle droughtEarlier this month India’s Supreme Court ruled that Karnataka must release 12,000 cubic feet of water per second to Tamil Nadu from the Cauvery river until 20 September. Both states say they urgently need the water for irrigation and a battle about access to it has raged for decades.

Karnataka says water levels in Cauvery have declined because of insufficient rainfall

India’s water war

The Cauvery originates in Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu before joining the Bay of Bengal.

The dispute over its waters originated in the 19th Century during the British rule between the then Madras presidency (modern day Tamil Nadu) and the province of Mysore (now Karnataka).

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have both argued that they need the water for millions of farmers in the region.

The Cauvery river water tribunal was set up in 1990 after the failure of several rounds of talks between the two states.

Dozens of meetings have been held to find a settlement to the century-old dispute.

In 2007, the tribunal ruled Tamil Nadu state would get 419bn cubic feet of water a year. Karnataka would get only 270bn.

Karnataka says water levels in the Cauvery have declined because of insufficient rainfall – 42% of the 3,598 irrigation tanks in the state are dry – and that it cannot therefore share water with Tamil Nadu. So Tamil Nadu went to the top court demanding 50,000 cubic feet of water per second.

When the Supreme Court on 2 September asked Karnataka to “live and let live”, the state softened and offered to release 10,000 cubic feet of water per second to Tamil Nadu every day for five days.

On 5 September however, the top court ordered Karnataka to release 15,000 cubic feet of water per second for 10 days. This ruling was later modified to 12,000 cubic feet of water per second until 20 September.

This would mean that nearly a quarter of the water now available in the Cauvery basin will flow into Tamil Nadu.

A truck from neighbouring Tamil Nadu set on fire in Bangalore

Tamil Nadu says it badly needs the river water for irrigation. Drought-hit Karnataka argues that most of the river water is now needed for drinking water supplies in Bangalore and some other cities, leaving no water for irrigation at all.

But even farmers in Tamil Nadu are unhappy with their share.P Ayyakannu, president of the local South Indian Rivers Interlinking Farmers Association, called it “akin to giving pigeon feed to an elephant”.

Rising violenceFeeling let down by the top court’s order, Karnataka is boiling.

The main city of Bangalore is the worst affected: the violence in the technology hub forced the closure of many offices and much of the public transport system. Police have imposed an emergency law that prohibits public gatherings, and more than 15,000 officers have been deployed across the city.

One person was killed when police opened fire on protesters on Monday evening. Buses and trucks bearing Tamil Nadu number plates have been attacked and set on fire. Schools and colleges are closing early and many businesses are shut.

A group of activists belonging to a fringe pro-Karnataka group assaulted an engineering student because he had ridiculed Kannada film stars for supporting the strike on Friday, by posting memes on Facebook. The student was hunted down and forced to apologise.

Across the border, in Tamil Nadu, petrol bombs were hurled at a popular restaurant owned by a resident of Karnataka in Chennai while the driver of a vehicle with Karnataka number plates was slapped and ordered to say “Cauvery belongs to Tamil Nadu”.

Normal life has been disrupted in Bangalore

Protests have shut down Bangalore city

The latest violence brings back memories of the anti-Tamil riots in Bangalore in 1991 over the same issue.

Then, some 200,000 Tamils were reported to have left the city, after incidents of violence and arson targeting them.

There was a proposal in 2013 to set up a panel comprising representatives from the two warring states to resolve disputes over river water sharing.

But successive governments have dragged their feet on this, and the two leaders – Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and his counterpart in Tamil Nadu, Jayaram Jayalalitha – have not reached out to each other to resolve the crisis. And with Delhi reduced to being a reluctant referee, the onus has fallen on the Supreme Court to crack the whip.

Source: Why water war has broken out in India’s Silicon Valley – BBC News

15/09/2016

Can India really halve its road deaths? – BBC News

For a crash course in India’s car-crash culture, go to Mumbai. There are more accidents here than any other Indian city. You’ll witness a dangerous mix of pedestrians, scooters, cars, buses and lorries jostling through choked junctions. Many ignore both signals and the traffic police.Officers can do little about such rampant law-breaking.

“We can catch a maximum of two offenders at a time – maximum,” one shouts at me above the horns and revving engines at one particularly busy junction. “The rest,” he says flicking his wrist, “just go. There are no consequences.”

Mumbai: “A dangerous mix of pedestrians, scooters, cars, buses and lorries”

Mumbai’s commissioner of traffic police, Milind Bharambe, says this will soon end. From his cool office, flanked by monitors with live CCTV feeds of notorious accident spots, he explains how cameras will enforce the law electronically, targeting those who speed and run red lights. Combine that with the recent introduction of stiff new fines and within six months, he promises “a sea change” in driver behaviour.

Milind Bharambe, Mumbai’s commissioner of traffic police

But bad driving and weak enforcement are only part of the problem. Another aspect of it is the rapidly growing number of vehicles – a new one joins the chaos every 10 seconds. It adds up to almost 9,000 new vehicles a day, or more than three million a year.

This means that the streets are increasingly choked. It’s almost impossible to leave a safe distance between vehicles, and when space does open up, frustrated drivers often respond by putting their foot down.

Neal Razzall presents Fixing India’s Car Crash Capital on Crossing Continents, at 11:00 BST on Radio 4 – catch up on BBC iPlayer Radio

The problem is perhaps most acute in Mumbai, which is surrounded by water on three sides and has little room to grow. Officials here have in the past responded to the crush of cars by tearing out pavements to make room for more.”The government still thinks the major issue is ‘How do we move people in cars faster and quicker?'” says Binoy Mascarenhas from the pedestrian advocacy movement, Equal Streets. In reality, he says most journeys are local and, in theory, can be done on foot.

Pavements are often non-existent on Mumbai roads

In theory. He grew up in Mumbai, and used to walk to school. His daughter now goes to school in a car because it’s too dangerous to walk. Pavements, where they exist, are often in such a poor state people have to walk on the roads. No wonder then that pedestrians account for 60% of road deaths in Mumbai.

There are dangers outside the city, too.

India’s first expressway, between the cities of Mumbai and Pune, opened in 2002. It has three wide lanes and room to move at high speed – a relief after the congestion of the city. But drive it with one of India’s few professional crash investigators, Ravi Shankar, and a quiet terror settles in. He’s studied thousands of crashes on this road and can point to dangers all around.

“There are small, man-made engineering problems that are actually killing people,” he says. Instead of rumble strips to warn drivers they’re at the road’s edge, there are black and yellow curb stones embedded into the concrete. Hit one of those, Shankar says, and your car can flip over. Then there are cliffs with no barriers, and guard-rails with tapered ends, which, he says, can send cars into the sky “like a rocket launcher”.

Things like this are happening all the time. The expressway is just 94km (58 miles) long but about 150 people die on it every year.

“That’s serious. That’s a very bad number,” Shankar says.

He and his colleagues at JD Research have identified more than 2,000 spots on the expressway where relatively simple engineering fixes, from better barriers to clearer signs, could save lives.Jump media playerMedia player helpOut of media player. Press enter to return or tab to continue.

“Road engineers are not serious about this problem,” Shankar says. “So we keep fighting with them on this point. How many deaths are you going to wait for, until you really understand that this is a serious concern?”

In this context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s plan for the biggest expansion of roads in Indian history is unnerving. In the next few years he wants to pave a distance greater than the circumference of the earth and there’s a particular push to build highways and expressways.

Piyush Tewari, CEO of the safety charity Save Life India, says without putting the country on a “war footing”, including a complete overhaul of road safety legislation and a modern road-building code, Modi’s new roads will only add to the number of dead.

“Road crash deaths will increase at the rate of one death for every 2km of new road that is constructed. That’s the average death rate on Indian highways – one death every 2km, annually. So if we don’t fix any of this, if we’re constructing 100,000km of highways, 50,000 deaths is what the average maths tells us will be added to the total,” he says.

Piyush TewariImage copyrightROLEX AWARDS/JESS HOFFMAN

Image captionPiyush Tewari believes the planned new roads could lead only to more fatalities

Modi’s government insists the new roads will be safer. “We are improving the road engineering; we are improving the traffic signal system; we are making crash barriers”, transportation minister, Nitin Gadkari, tells me.

There is progress in other areas too. When Mumbai’s commissioner of traffic police predicts a “sea change” in driver behaviour he is partly putting his faith in a new motor vehicle bill, now before parliament, which if passed would increase fines, toughen vehicle registration requirements and mandate road-worthiness tests for transport vehicles.

And earlier this year, a Good Samaritan Act came into effect which ended the crazy situation whereby people who helped crash victims could be held liable for the costs of treating them or even accused by police of causing the crash in the first place. That alone, campaigners say, will save thousands of lives.


More from the Magazine

A busy road in Delhi

When a road accident occurs, bystanders will usually try to help the injured, or at least call for help. In India it’s different. In a country with some of the world’s most dangerous roads, victims are all too often left to fend for themselves.

If no-one helps you after a car crash in India, this is why (June 2016)


Save Life India estimates that half of all road deaths are the result of treatable injuries. That means 75,000 lives could be saved every year just with better medical care.

One man trying to save some of those lives is Mumbai neurosurgeon Dr Aadil Chagla, who is working with volunteers to build a series of clinics along Highway 66, south of Mumbai – many of them in rural areas – to prevent victims having to be driven for hours to the city.

The first is more than half-built. It looks out over rice paddies and lush hills, but Dr Chagla estimates it will be treating victims from “one or two crashes a day, every day”.

“If I can have an ambulance service and trauma centres every 50 to 100km run by the locals it would make huge difference to this entire highway – with or without government support,” he says.

Dr Chagla's as-yet-unopened clinic

Image captionDr Chagla’s as-yet-unopened clinic to treat victims of road accidents

Since Dr Chagla started practising in the 1980s, the number killed on India’s roads has increased by 300%.

“I waited all this time and nothing has really come through so it’s important that I should do something about it,” he says.

So if transportation minister Nitin Gadkari is to make good on his promise to cut road deaths from 150,000 to 75,000 per year in two years, it will be thanks in part to the efforts of volunteers.

The state corporation that owns the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, meanwhile, says it will reduce deaths to zero – yes, zero – by 2020. It has accepted the list of essential improvements identified by crash investigator Ravi Shankar and authorised them to be made and then audited by Save Life India.

But there’s a snag, which suggests India is not yet on a “war footing” when it comes to safety.

Battered motorway barrier on the Pune-Mumbai expressway

The state government owns the road, but a private company runs it in exchange for collecting tolls. The two sides dispute who should make the safety upgrades. The official in charge of the expressway says the work will be done, even if it requires litigation to recover the costs.

While the dispute drags on, 100,000 vehicles use the expressway every day in its current, dangerous state. In the past week, it claimed six more lives.

Source: Can India really halve its road deaths? – BBC News