There are days you hit the jackpot. September 27 was one such day for me. No exaggeration. I met and spent time with three remarkable personalities in my area of interest.
One an IIT-ian. Two road safety warriors
In a way, I owe a big thanks to the late Cyrus Mistry, ex-Tata Sons Chairman, More so his ghastly and gruesome death a few weeks ago near Charoti on National Highway 48.
73-year-old Sudhir Badami, IIT-Mumbai (civil engineering), and an urban planning specialist wait for me in the service lane of Kalyan railway station under the dark and damp monsoon sky. Following Mistry’s death, we interact and decide on a visit to the accident spot. “Meantime, I will get my accident analysis report on whatever I have seen and read in the media,” he said.
We have known each other for over seven years, particularly in road safety discussions. We met at the Mahindra Transport Excellence Award as jury members long ago.
We must walk almost a kilometer from the railway station to the pick-up taxi for Charoti, 100km away. He manages because the entry of taxis on Kalyan east is not allowed and not possible due to narrow passage and barricaded to enable smooth flow of walking passengers to the suburban station.
A few hours earlier, the bearded, bespectacled pencil-thin professorial-looking Badami had shared his 15-page Mistry accident post-mortem. A gripping narration. We quickly get into dissecting the accident. I am more of a listener to his expert comments.
Barring a short halt at the Tabela Chai, a unique roadside tea stall with a tabela (buffalos) attached behind the elegantly decorated stand-only vending spot, and the entire journey consumes his verbal explanation.
Since his post-mortem is out, why does he want to join this tiresome, back-breaking journey? “Yes, I have watched several TV news bulletins and multiple newspaper reports. Everyone has an opinion on this issue. Everyone has a different approach. What if, something is missed out? Plus, a visit to the site is quintessential to get a better perspective,” Badami elaborates. Maan na padega!
The two-and-half Kalyan to Charoti was like a classroom in a car. A lot of distilled wisdom was flowing.
Charoti meant Harbans Singh. A hard-core road safety warrior. He is the second-generation crane service provider on National Highway 48. His father was the most sought-after emergency help seeker for truckers even in the pre-National Highway zamaana. We have been working together on road safety- especially on the Borivli-Surat stretch passing through Charoti — since 2016. Together we made several trips on this stretch and approached NHAI, seeking their indulgence to rectify anomalies to avert accidents. This stretch is managed by IRB, one of the leading infra builders.
Since the Mistry incident, Harbans alias Pappu has been in the limelight. He is a go-to guy on safety issues on this stretch. He is omnipresent on all media platforms: TV, print, and the web, sharing his insights. None can match his enthusiasm, and he does not mince words. Be it the District Collector or IRB staff, or NHAI.
We reworked the plan to Nagpur via Mumbai. Nothing matches a visit in the company of experts’ accident site: three. Badami. Harbans. Who’s the third? Deepa Tanna from Dahanu, the Chikku town! Again, known her for a couple of years. A versatile personality with a management repertoire and an educationist to the core. Above all, a diehard road safety czarina.
During the previous visit with Harbans, we saw the Crash Reduction Project she and her team in Dahanu did. At a T-junction near her Trust-managed educational institution, she procured worn-out automobile tires and stacked them on the roadside after painting them in eye-pleasing colors. Since this novel approach to reduce accidents in her hometown, accidents at this site have vanished, acknowledged by the district authorities.
Deepa wants to apply the Crash Reduction strategy on the Charoti stretch. “Heard of Tire dhaan?,” she asks me as we meet at Mendhwan, the site where a chemical tank leaked, and the Mendhwan villagers rushed to mop up the spilling oil and died an unfortunate death a decade ago. An incident that galvanized Harbans to embrace road safety with all seriousness it deserves.
The “Tire Dhaan” means “Donate Tires.” What for? Explains Deepa: “Our usage of worn out tires to reduce road accidents and fatalities at Dahanu and its effectiveness convinced the success of this project. Under the “Tire Dhaan” scheme, we seek transporters and passenger car owners to gift their to-be-discarded tires to us to use them to build crash barriers on NH48 which has several black spots. Give it to us instead of throwing out and help us to save lives.”
Incredible. Where did she get such a simple and effective idea? No idea. But considering that road safety is everyone’s responsibility, the least the motorized vehicle owners/drivers can do is to willingly give away their worn-out tires to Deepa to do the rest. She strategizes the collection points on the busiest NH48 stretch between Borivli and Surat. It will go national, she assures me. The doors of CSR fund-rich corporates will be approached in this noble endeavor. Great going, Deepa!
As I said, September 27 was a day well spent.
The urge to spend more time with this threesome is huge. But the call from Sabarmati on a related ground-level activity is equally demanding.
Permit me to say “bye” for now to ready my stuff for the journey to Nagpur tonite.
“You said Sabarmati, but going in the wrong direction to Nagpur?” you ask.
Hang on. The mystery will vanish soon.