Heart-wrenching Gitidas Crash(I)

By Syed Shamsuddin

HORRIFICALLY IMPACTFUL it is, the heart-rending Gitidas tragedy occurring near Babusar Pass,Chilas, gruesomely filled the horizon here  with tremendous shock and gloom and as such caused nagging pain for the entire society  to such an extent that beggars description. The enormity of the this road crash becomes well discernible from the fact that the death toll is put at 24, including children and ten soldiers ,died on the spot while many others on board the ill-fated coach critically injured. Given its intensity, the gory crash came like a tremor rattling the entire area to put it succinctly. Reports say there were 37 passengers were on board the coach at the time the blood-curdling happening.

It is said that the coach collided head-on, with the cliff skirting the road. As soon as the news of the hair-tingling incident spread, rescue teams rushed to the spot. The injured and the dead were immediately shifted to the nearest hospital where medical aid to those sustaining critical injuries was given and treatment remains underway. Pakistan Army team deserves accolades for the alacrity with which they reached the scene of the occurrence and extending direly needed life-saving assistance. The Army Aviation copters airlifted the victims instantly for hospitalization promptly whilst airlifting the dead  bodies including the ten armed forces personnel, to Gilgit for funeral rites. The Force Commander Maj Gen Ihsan Mahmood Kiani – noted for his kindheartedness, himself  led the Army team for overseeing the operations. This was followed by offering of funeral prayers of 24 dead at Gilgit and their biers were later taken to their native hometowns for burial.

Lesson to Be Learnt

Prima facie, myriad road crashes occur all across the country which are said to result mainly from non-compliance with the traffic rules and safety standards by the vehicle drivers which is to be viewed in juxtaposition to an ineffectual enforcement mechanism as well as lack of a sustained awareness campaign. At places, the cause may also be attributed to substandard infrastructure and worn-out roads. But be it as it may, the accidents occurring in the mountainous regions like Gilgit-Baltiistan glaringly differ from those of the highways in the plains of the country.  And for that matter, the KKH gets singled out for its passing through a sheer, precarious rocky terrain all the way from Besham up to Khunjrab Pass. The same remains the case with Gilgit-Skardu, Ghizar, Astore and the roads leading into the adjoining valleys in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral with the serpentine road leading up the Babusar Pass, notwithstanding. There are also instances where a speeding vehicles skid off the road and fall down the steep precipices onto a rivers or nullahs far below.

The inhospitable terrain and occurrences at remote parts in the mountainous region hamper normal rescue operations until special arrangements are made instantly for the provincial government has to be very well poised to handle extraordinary situations by having the direly needed paraphernalia id est a copter at its disposal –  something sadly lacking at present. The National Highway Authorities (NHA) – solely responsible for the maintenance and upgradation and construction of the KKH too, must come up with similar elaborate arrangements to deal with situations in collaboration with the local administration.

As to the instant road crash, it is said that it occurred perhaps because of the driver’s losing command over the vehicle at the time of negotiating a sharp turn, in a speedy manner. It has also emanated from media that the coach did not have necessary ‘route permit’ for its plying via Babusar on Kaghan road to Rawalpindi and vice versa. It is worth mentioning that under the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Ordinance, 1965, the respective authorities are required unfailingly to examine periodically, public service vehicles, including their fuel tanks and overall condition for the ascertainment of their technical soundness/fitness. Evidently, the continued enforcement of this process is aimed at ensuring that the vehicles are plied strictly against valid fitness certificate issued by the competent authorities while keeping off the road the rest.

Aftermath of Gitidas Accident

In the aftermath of the Gitidas crash, the administration is said to have sealed their offices forthwith for their allegedly being non-compliant with the required codal formalities. Be it as it may, a thorough enquiry into the accident alone will lay bare the facts connected with the tragedy and be become instrumental in fixing the responsibility besides suggesting corrective measures to be taken perennially to address the consternation resulting from the gory road crash. This is in seeing that it has caused immeasurable scare among travelers to whom the Gilgit-Rawalpindi route assumes the lifeline and arterial significance and as such, there is the need of long term foolproof measures to be undertaken for the safety of passenger by allaying public fears. There is a general perception that those at those at helm of affairs traditional condolatory messages and announce consolatory actions on such occasion but as the time passes by, there is again the lax enforcement and the lackadaisical approach – something things worse when any plan of  strictest law enforcement mechanism  fizzles out.

As regards plying of public transport vehicles on the KKH, the transporters themselves can make sure by adopting a process their own whereby the individual drivers can be well monitored to see to it that their vehicles are plied strictly on the correct route permitted to them. For instance, the drivers plying vehicles from Gilgit to Rawalpindi may be well advised to get in touch via cell phone with the head office of the respective transport company’s head office on reaching Dassu where signals are received. Likewise, those leaving Rawalpindi for Gilgit can inform their office on reaching Besham to ensure that they are rightly driving on the authorized route. This process if followed by the transporters will automatically plug any chance of any changing of the authorized route at whim by their drivers. As far limiting the speed in keeping with the traffic rules and in consonance with the specific  terrain, NHA can commission radars at certain vulnerable points in order to monitor speed and imposing fine on those exceeding the limit and flouting the traffic regulations. The NHA therefore, has to come up with such a solution for controlling the same perennially. Admittedly, there has been a great influx of tourists both from home and abroad, in to Gilgit-Baltistan which is estimated to surge to millions in upcoming years. This calls for elaborate arrangements to enforce unfailingly, traffic rules in toto to ensure safety of passengers.

Generally speaking, the risk of collisions or road crashes worldwide as listed by Wikipedia, become ascribable to vehicle design, speed of operation, road design, road environment, driving skill, impairment due to alcohol or drugs, and behavior, notably distracted driving, speeding etc. These fatal accidents lad to death and disability as well as financial costs to both society and the individuals involved.

Worldwide Phenomenon:

According to a report, 54 million people around the world reportedly sustained injuries from traffic collisions during 2013[1] resulting into 1.4 million deaths, up from 1.1 million deaths in 1990.[2] About 68,000 of these occurred in children less than five years old.[2] Almost all high-income countries have decreasing death rates, while the majority of low-income countries have increasing death rates due to traffic collisions. Middle-income countries have the highest rate with 20 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, accounting for 80% of all road fatalities with 52% of all vehicles. While the death rate in Africa is the highest (24.1 per 100,000 inhabitants), the lowest rate is to be found in Europe (10.3 per 100,000 inhabitants).[3]

To be continued……

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