On December 22, 2012, Tanmay Pendse’s actor brother, Akshay Pendse, his two-year-old son and veteran actor Anand Abhyankar met with an accident along the Pune-Mumbai Expressway.
A speeding truck travelling from the opposite direction jumped the wrong lane in the absence of dividers and collided with Akshay’s vehicle that was travelling from Pune to Mumbai near the Urse toll plaza.
The tempo rammed into the vehicle head-on with such a force that it killed Akshay, his son, and Abhyankar on the spot.
The death of his loved ones was the turning point in the Pune-based man’s life.
But instead of complaining about the lack of road safety policies, infrastructure or adherence to rules, the then 28-year-old took the road less taken.
He became a road-safety hero who made the safety of the expressway, the sole aim of his life.
At 34, over the last six years, Pendse has spent more than 15 lakh from his pocket and successfully worked with authorities from the Indian Roads Congress, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), the Police department, the home ministry, engineers and IAS officers in the Mantralaya and personalities from the Marathi film industry to ensure the number of fatalities on the expressway decrease every year.
Speaking to The Better India, Pendse says, “Before losing my brother and nephew to the accident, I would criticise the government, like others around me. But their death made me stop complaining and start looking for solutions. I couldn’t wait for someone else to do anything. If I wanted to make the Expressway safer for others, I would have to do it myself.”
Pendse runs his venture, Catalyst Outdoors, which conducts corporate training, adventure and heritage tourism, and took almost 1.5 years only to complete his research.
Over 18 months, he met several road safety heroes and experts on the ground, met political leaders, engineers, police personnel and visited the expressway more than a 1000 times, to make a 200-page research report.
He also undertook an in-depth study of roads in Korea, Canada and Australia. After comparing it to the six-lane Mumbai-Pune expressway and scourging through statistics on road fatalities, he made a detailed proof of concept on infrastructural facilities and steps that were required to reduce road fatalities.
Known as one of the deadliest highways in the country, this expressway, runs across mountains and plateaus. It is India’s first six-lane concrete, high-speed, access controlled tolled expressway and spans a distance of 94.5 km connecting Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra and the financial capital of India, with Pune, the cultural capital of Maharashtra and an industrial and educational hub.
“Since the time it was built in 2002, there have been over 5,000 accidents and 1,900 deaths, which is an unfortunate and shameful statistic. Now when I look back, I do think it is disappointing that many of us, wait for a personal loss to strike us, before we decide to take matters into our own hands. What we fail to realise is, road safety is just as much our responsibility as theirs. So if we see a problem at hand, instead of complaining about it, why don’t we brainstorm logical solutions that fit within the law and put it across in the right way?”
Some of the leading issues that the man recognised were the absence of dividers, barricades and brifen ropes.
His research revealed that since the 1960s, brifen ropes have proven to be an efficient safety technique on highways and expressways. Used in more than 110 countries, a Brifen wire-rope barrier fence avoids a speeding vehicle from jumping a lane. It successfully cushions a vehicle’s impact first and then safely redirects the vehicle.
Working with the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and IRC, and meeting with authorities in the state government including CM Devendra Fadnavis, Pendse was able to convince the state government sanctioned a project to install Brifen wire ropes on the highway in 2013. These ropes cover almost 40 km of the expressway currently. They have also installed a crash barrier system.
They also worked on installing closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras along the expressway that can detect a vehicle’s registration number. Though these are currently only a few, the idea is to eventually cover the entire stretch with it, says Pendse.
Pendse’s study also revealed that plenty of victims who meet with accidents on the expressway are either rushed to Lokmanya hospital in Pune or MGM hospital in Khallapur. Both hospitals at a considerable distance, which leads to several victims losing their lives during the golden hour.
This led to the demand for a trauma centre. This emergency trauma centre will be up and running in the next two-three months, claims Pendse.
“The CCTV cameras revealed that more than 35,000 vehicles travel to and fro on the expressway every day. On Ganesh Chathurthi, over 21 hours, more than 4225 vehicles were seen speeding and jumping lanes. It is impossible to manually keep a track. So we are also working towards installing, an ITMS (Intelligent Traffic Management System) to control lane violation,” he says.
To create awareness among citizens, they are also working on creating short films on road accident and safety and distributing these free of cost to restaurants and hotels along the stretch to play for customers.
All said and done; the journey hasn’t been easy for Pendse.
“When my brother died, and I started working on the project, a lot of people did not take me seriously. A few critics even questioned my genuity saying I was trying to capitalise on my brother’s death. But I did not let it affect me. My family, friends, the media and a lot of people from the Marathi film industry believed in my work and supported me.”
Pendse claims that thanks to these collaborative efforts with the authorities, the fatalities are down by 38 per cent. His ultimate target is to keep working until he achieves a single-digit fatality rate, and then, expand this project to other critical roads as well.
In his final message, he says, “I lost two dear family members. I know I cannot change that. But I wouldn’t want others to go through the same pain that my family went through. I know the expressway cannot become a zero-fatality corridor, but I believe we can all join efforts to reduce these numbers.”
We wish him the very best. May his tribe grow!
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(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)