DEHRADUN: The hills of Uttarakhand are a death trap for unwary drivers, be they locals or tourists. Misjudgement of an inch or two could result in a car plunging into the valley with little hope of survival. And the terrain is such that removal of a wreckage can take weeks if not months.
Last week, as I drove along the snaky roads near Sonprayag, I espied a crew engaged in retrieving the remains of a red Maruti Alto that had plunged 175 m to the rocky banks of the gushing Mandakini. It was not that day’s accident. It had happened on Jan. 19, a fortnight earlier.
The unfortunate driver was a police inspector, Ram Kumar Juyal, of the Sonprayag police station. He had been on his way to Dehradun to make security arrangements for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Dehradun for a conference at the Indian Military Academy (IMA).
The crash happened on the Rudraprayag-Gaurikund highway at around 11.30 a.m. The Alto skidded and slipped off the road and landed on the rocks below. The officer, alone in the car, died on the spot.
“Accidents like these are not new to this place. In these hills, a mishap could happen if the driver loses focus even for a second. There is no second chance,'' said Neeraj Pandey, a head constable who was assisting the retrieval crew.
It had taken a fortnight to maneuver a crane into position to reach the wreckage and two days of work to lift the mangled car.
The statistics present a grim picture. In the first eight months of 2016, there were more than a dozen deadly road mishaps in the hills of Uttarakhand. In all, there were 1075 road accidents in the first eight months of 2016 in which 641 deaths took place and over 1,000 injuries. In 2015, there were 955 accidents in which 584 persons died and several hundred injured, most of them permanently disabled.
Interestingly, Neeraj Pandey said that in almost all the accidents the drivers were locals, who are well acquainted with the routes.
''Some may be over-confident, others negligent,'' he said.
Often, drivers ferrying tourists make haste on these roads, trying to complete a 10-day package in eight days, resulting in such ghastly mishaps. Then there are those who are drunk or drive rashly. Overloading is another problem.
A drive from Rudraprayag till Kedarnath shows that the state government has also not done enough. At several vulnerable places, there are no crash barriers, which can be life-saving.