The Chairman, IRF Speaks

Road Safety & Transportation Security in India


Potholes and large ditches, failure of traffic signals, rash driving and incidences of road rage, and alike are the usual phenomena on roads – both city roads and national highways – causing severe life hazards for the commuters. The news of road accidents, and accidental deaths and injuries and corresponding damages are the common sights on the pages of newspapers and TV screens today. Recent security lapse of horse racing on the Noida Expressway and incidences of high speed vehicles hitting pedestrians which most often result in deaths are not uncommon today.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has also taken the issue seriously. As a signatory to Brasilia Declaration, India is committed to reducing the number of road accidents and fatalities by 50% by 2020, and it appears that the Ministry is taking steps towards fulfilling this commitment.

But the question arises whether the commitment is achievable; and if yes, how?

SecurityLink India has recently interacted with Kiran Kumar Kapila, the Global Chairman of the International Road Federation (IRF) for the third time in a row. IRF, headquartered in Geneva, is a global body which works in the field of advising and encouraging promotion of safer and more sustainable roads around the globe.

Mr. Kapila is also the Chairman and Managing Director of Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats Pvt Ltd. (ICT), a multi-disciplinary firm of consultants having an international presence, providing comprehensive professional consultancy services, for all facets of infrastructure projects.

SecurityLink India (SLI): Kindly give a brief about the evolution of International Road Federation (IRF).

K. Kapila (KKK): The International Road Federation (IRF) is a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organisation with the mission to encourage and promote development and maintenance of better, safer and more sustainable roads, road networks and mobility.

Set up in 1964, the IRF Geneva works together with its members and associates. The federation promotes the social and economic benefits that flow from well-planned and environmentally sound road transport networks. It helps put in place technological solutions and management practices that provide maximum economic and social returns from national road investments.

The IRF has a major role to play in all aspects of road policy and development worldwide. For governments and financial institutions, the IRF provides a wide base of expertise for planning road development strategy and policy.

For its members, the IRF is a business network, a link to external institutions and agencies such as the United Nations and the European Union, and a business card of introduction to government officials and decision makers.

For the community of road professionals like national road associations, advocacy groups, companies and institutions dedicated to the development of road infrastructure etc., the IRF is a source of support, guide and information. With a wide network across over 90 countries on six continents, the IRF believes that with the global pool of knowledge it can make a difference by providing best practices and expert advice in today’s multi-faceted world of transport.

About 5 years ago, the IRF Geneva has expanded the horizon to include safe and smart mobility. After the ITS Vienna Manifesto launched in 2012, IRF is intensively focusing on ITS and its solutions.

SLI: Kindly share a brief about its India operations.

KKK: The IRF Geneva debuted in India during 2005, by consolidating various road safety activities in the country in a major way. They formalised their India Chapter in February 2009. There are about 70 members of IRF India which includes all major players in road segment spreading across both government and private sectors. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India, is our life member. Other government sector life members are the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), Public Works Department, Delhi, Rajasthan State Government, and NHIDCL; besides, Public Works Departments of Haryana, Karnataka and Maharashtra are the members. In private sector, players like L&T, ILFS, IRB, Shell, Mahindra Motors, besides, equipment manufacturers, material suppliers and consultants are members of IRF India Chapter. We work relentlessly to address the serious concern of road safety in India, which has the highest number of road fatalities in the world.

SLI: What is your role towards the decision making of the Indian Government in road designing and construction?

KKK: IRF has regularly been holding conferences and seminars on road safety and they have been influencing the decision making of the government to a great extent. Our roles are certainly advisory but our recommendations are considered so valuable that they are most often incorporated in their circulars and guidelines, and made part of the policy. For instance, a policy circular of the government of India in April 2010 had lucidly brought out the IRF conferences and deliberations therein, that was issued as a sequel to the recommendations of an IRF Conference. We keep in close interactions and involvement with the stakeholders in the road transport departments such as the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, National Highways Authorities of India, and also with the NHIDCL which is now a life member of IRF.

We also undertake road safety audits, and train the people on how to audit. We have in the last few years carried out a number of 5 day training programms in association with the Australian Research Board and the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) and have trained about 300 people on road safety audit. Last year we held a 6 week training programme in three modules of 2 weeks each, along with Indian Academy of Highway Engineers, and ARRB. A similar programme is now on-going.

SLI: What are the international road safety standards?

KKK: Internationally, the vision and perception of the road safety standards vary in terms of design, products and technology, gradients, curves, and other necessary implements. There is a wide variance between developed world and developing countries. Developed ones distinctly maintain very high standards. Sweden holds zero fatality vision for road accidents. Western world and even the Australian standards are very high. They comply very lucidly with the laid out standards on gradients, radius of curves, various provisions of speed reduction when approaching school, hospitals and other structures of significance, excellent prominent signage, and all other encompassing provisions of road safety and surveillance.

On the other hand, standards in developing world fluctuate in varying degrees. For example, in African continent, the standards in South Africa are reasonable; however, in other parts of the continent, they are rather lacking. Conclusively, there are weak standards in these countries. We have tried to put together the best practices and shared them with the world community. Recently, we have introduced the Africa Chapter of IRF headed by the Tanzanian Minister of Transport.

Besides technical standards, the mass sensitisation and awareness manifest in the form of an efficient transportation and communication system. Understanding and proper responding to the significance of road and road safety are of immense meaning. Developed world practices them with utmost sincerity.

 SLI: How do you grade the road safety standards in India?

KKK: Factually, the road safety standards and pertinent laws in India are proficient; however for various reasons, their implementation and enforcement are lacklustre. We have excellent road science but it goes meaningless if it is applied incorrectly and insensitively.

In order to enable better enforcement we are bringing Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) in. The system is able to guard, capture, and discipline the people at large towards the essentialities of road infrastructure. It will also help control congestion, red light jumps, enforce lane driving and generally improve the behaviour on roads. Besides it will help in reduction of emission and consequently lessen pollution. We have done round tables with the ITS providers across the world and are in the process of developing these solutions in India itself under the ‘Make in India’ call of the Prime Minister, under the patronage of Niti Ayog.

SLI: What is Intelligent Transport System (ITS)?

KKK: Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) is the integration of vehicles and surrounding infrastructure for enhanced safety and mobility. It includes CCTV cameras, video surveillance systems, ANPR, traffic signal control system, transit management, traveller information services, emergency management services, electronic toll payment, and so on. It implies to regulate the proper movement of the pedestrian as well as traffic in terms of lanes, speeds etc.

SLI: How is the installation of ITS different from the installations being done under Smart Cities Project?

KKK: To me, mere buying a camera and installation thereof on a project does not serve the purpose. ITS is a complete system. I recommend its installation in PPP mode, where we employ partners who can undertake the entire job of the projects, their installation, maintenance and operation, for a defined time period and show their serviceability up to at least 95%. They will undertake right from the installation, maintenance, capturing violations, managing them in coordination with the law enforcement agencies such as e-challaning, to the absolute control and regulation of the system. The partners along with a prescribed down payment, will get the balance payment by sharing a calculated part of the collection from violation as the management fees. The supervision of the project, however, will of course be in the hand of the government.

The ITS is designed as an incentivised scheme where the serviceability of the system will be the decisive criteria. In case of failure, their share will be proportionately reduced, and in case of enhanced performance above the laid down criteria, there is also a provision of a defined bonus for them. This system is proposed to be introduced and is meant to yield the best results.

SLI: What is sustainable road construction and how far it is maintained in India?

KKK: Sustainable road must last for a very long time. It must be constructed, maintained and operated with minimum CO2 emissions. It should be designed fully in accordance with the laid down standards, and constructed with complete adherence to the specifications. A proper drainage system is the prerequisite for a sustainable road. If water is allowed to stay on the roads, potholes are inevitable, which gradually swell into a big ditch if not promptly attended in time, and this is not the feature of a sustainable road. Sustainable roads should also be maintained properly as per the laid down maintenance schedules.

SLI: If generally asked, are Indian roads really safe and secured?

KKK: Indian roads vary in terms of safety and security. Majority of them are not up to the mark, not owing to the non-compliance of the standards, but to various other reasons, mainly poor enforcement. For example, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) under the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, is a promising programme and has certainly improved the connectivity across the county. The road surface is highly improved in the scheme, but as sufficient land was not acquired the overall geometry of the roads has been compromised. Superior road surface tempts drivers to drive faster but the erring road geometry in terms of the radius of curves and gradients etc., always keep the drivers vulnerable with their life at high risk. These compromises are one of the major reasons of road accidents. Besides, inadequate provisioning of underpasses, overpasses, ROB’s on railway crossings etc., are also adding to the woes because they make the insufficient safety provisions to the roads.

In case of national highways, the geometry of roadways is by and large maintained, but they are not viable for the locals. In the course of constructions, several villages and old settlements of the region are split into parts without adequate provisioning of proper facilities for safely and conveniently crossing the roads such as under passes and over bridges, ROBs. People cross the roads, when required, to meet their daily needs, and meet with accidents. There has been uncountable number of accidents and fatalities of locals and passengers, while crossing these high speed national highways since these projects have taken off.

Creating sufficient over bridges and under passes is always part of the planning for these projects, but they are quite often compromised. They were reserved to save cost and make the projects viable for BOT. This was an unfortunate development, on account of the desire to build maximum roads on NH under BOT.

SLI: What as per you are the main reasons of road accidents in India?

KKK: There are many reasons and some of the technical ones we have discussed above; but to me, the prime reason is the poorly controlled and regulated licensing procedure in the country. We lack educated and experienced drivers on the road. The licencing required is very weak. A very large percentage of drivers in India are not sufficiently trained and that is a huge challenge. Besides, rash driving and poor enforcement are other major reasons.

SLI: The government is willing to reduce the rate of road accidents in India by 50% by 2020; do you think it is achievable?

KKK: Yes, it is achievable if we take very strong and strict measures from now onward. Mere rhetoric shall not work. We need to do a lot of executions on the ground. There are five pillars to address this issue, and they are – making safer roads, making safer vehicles, better education including sensitizing the public, better enforcement, and better emergency care. If we sincerely perform on all the pillars we will certainly accomplish the target.

Despite a number of odds, we at IRF are exerting relentlessly towards it with the ardent support of the government especially Mr. Nitin Gadkari, Hon’ble Minister for Road Transport & Highways. The government today is sensitive and truly willing to make it happen by the deadline. I would like to complement Gadkari Ji for his sincere efforts and support.

SLI: Safety and security are citizens’ basic entitlements; however, price of the vehicles varies with the pertinent safety measures installed, how do you justify the practice?

KKK: Of course this issue needs addressing and IRF is working on this as well. The nation has recently launched a programme where we will test the safety measures of all types of vehicles being manufactured in the country, and shall grant them respective star ratings based on their performances. We need to promote and build a culture where nobody would like to buy a less star product; everybody demands high standard safety measures in a vehicle. Therefore, as the programme goes further, the standard of vehicular safety will enhance. This will encourage the manufacturers to provide adequate safety measures even in the lower end vehicles.

We also need to enforce the rules and regulations to ensure minimum basic safety measure in all vehicles such as safety belts, fog lights, air bags, anti-skidding devices, ABS etc.; and for trucks and other heavy vehicles all four sides under run protection.

SLI: What does IRF do towards reducing the road fatalities?

KKK: IRF works on all the 4 es to reduce the road fatalities. 4 es includes engineering designs – road and vehicular, emergency care, education, and improving enforcements.

We brought in forgiving road circulars which the Ministry had issued in April 2010, and later repeated by the NHAI. Though the guidelines were delivered but unfortunately it has not been followed in letter and spirit. If it gets implemented we would probably have safer roads.

A number of our recommendations towards vehicular engineering were accepted where the key ones were for the trucks and buses such as provisions of front under run, back under run and side under run protections.

Towards education, we have prepared books for class VI to class X by employing teachers from various schools. We pulled out the chapters of the NCERT books and replaced them by introducing road safety in various chapters. This will enable the students engrain road safety in their minds in the young age, and that will make a massive difference. The books have not yet been introduced in schools but interests have been shown by various state governments. For now the books are available on IRF website and they can be downloaded easily.

Besides, we also create films towards awareness programme which are screened in theatre across the country. Under an agreement, three one minute films on road safety are currently being screened in 100 PVRs.

On emergency care, we, in association with AIIMs Trauma Centres, have trained nearly 12000 drivers to extended first aid and emergency support. We are also training bystanders comprising people established on the road side such as petrol pump staff, motel staff, roadside schools staff, hospitals staff, toll plaza people, truck and bus drivers, and others who could be the first responder to the accident sites. Recently, we have trained about 180 people along Dibrugarh road in Assam. We are also undertaking a training programme in Tamil Nadu along with the Ministry of Health, Government of India where around 500 people will be trained along NH 4 & NH 45 where maximum accidents take place.

We are also introducing intelligent transportation systems which will be an effective measure to reduce road accidents.

SLI: What as per you are the main reasons for the failure of only BRT project in New Delhi?

KKK: See, the said BRT was not conceived properly, and the implementation thereof was also not that great. Primarily, the bus lanes should have been in the left of the road, not in the middle. That was to my mind was a huge mistake. The movements of the passengers and the vehicles were highly in conflict with the location of bus lanes in the middle of the road. Besides, the road width was not sufficient enough to support both bus lane and non-bus lane together with the extremely crowded traffic flow. All these factors made the failure of the project inevitable.

SLI: How do you react to the banning of the liquor outlets within 500m of a national highway?

KKK: I completely support the ban; it will certainly discourage drinking and driving, especially in the case of heavy vehicles like truck drivers, and youngsters. However extending it to star hotels is unnecessary and stretching it too far.

SLI: How do you advise on securing and managing road assets in India?

KKK: I find ITS will play very significant roles in addressing the issues like securing and managing road assets. The mere knowledge that an intelligent system is enforced and constantly watching, will have immense impact on the offenders, and will deter the incidents of asset loss substantially. Secondly, the pattern of PPP whereby the entire job is outsourced to a private party and that party is made accountable for any pilferage, will also prove a great help. As I mentioned earlier if an incentivised programme is formulated and the third parties are paid proper incentives and bonus in appreciation of their compliance and good works, they are bound to take extra care for the assets and service.

SLI: What is your take on the maintenance of roads – especially city roads?

KKK: The unorganized drainage system across cities is the prime source of road damage. Most of the cities have fast outgrown in recent years and this sudden growth has disturbed the drainage systems – either the connectivity is broken or the discharge does not reach to the out fall point, or at places drains leading to the outfall point are filled with garbage or sediments. The faulty drainage causes water stagnation on the roads and that is the originator of all the problems. Water creates potholes, pot holes enlarge to ditches, and so on and so forth. Addressing the drainage system therefore would be the first step towards maintaining a safe road. This however, may not be done immediately, but as an interim measure, large water harvesting pitches with proper concrete pavement in the rain water harvesting area, and its immediate catchment can be a step forward to bring immediate improvement.

SLI: Regarding Delhi Metro, there are cases of building walls nearby metro tracks developing cracks, and there are depressions on the roads by the side of metro pillars. Are these safety threats? Kindly throw light on the issue.

KKK: Yes these are safety threats. The vibrations generated by the metro trains may certainly impact the adjoining structures adversely, and the said cracks may be the result. These instances seem not to have been properly addressed at certain places and so the public safety is at stake in certain locations.

Generally speaking, the metro has done a great job. But there are places where water from elevated tracks, rain water falls directly on roads which causes the major damage. I have requested DMRC to channelize the water dropping and also to make water harvesting pitches under the overhead metro lines to save and manage the roads. They have appreciated the suggestions but it has not yet been done to the extent required. This needs to be addressed on priority.

SLI: Is the first emergency response system in India sufficient; what more to be done?

KKK: Unfortunately the emergency response systems in India are not up to the mark. It is a bit better within cities but outside cities it is negligible. And that is the reason that we are imparting trainings to bystanders. Government is willing and working to establish and upgrade the system, but it has to go a long way to bring it to the level of satisfaction.

SLI: A brief about IRF World Road Meet 2017?

KKK: The 18th IRF World Road Meet 2017, to be held in Delhi during 14-17 November 2017 has the theme ‘Safe Roads and Smart Mobility: The Engine of Economic Growth.’ It provides an outlet for sharing cutting-edge research, practices, and experiences, from across the world and is intended to be a premier knowledge event for discussing important issues facing the road, transport and mobility sectors.


Kiran Kumar Kapila, Geneva Chairman

International Road Federation

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