Avoidable tragedy

The tragedy that struck a joint family of 30 persons that drowned in the Undabatti lake on the Mysore-Nanjungud road on Tuesday when the vehicle in which they were travelling skidded off the road into the tank is too gruesome to be recounted. The post-marriage party in all their finery which was returning after a wedding feast in Nanjungud could not have imagined the watery grave that awaited it on the way to their homes in Aralakuppe, Syadanahalli and Katteri villages in the Pandavapura taluk of Mandya district. Except one, all the dead were women and children. Five persons, including two women in their 70s had a miraculous escape, while intriguingly, both the driver and cleaner of the ill-fated vehicle seem to have jumped out and gone absconding.
Reports suggest that the driver and cleaner were under the influence of alcohol, and if so, the matter needs to be thoroughly investigated. Even otherwise, the fact that the Mysore-Nanjungud road, which is part of Mysore-Ooty national highway 212, was in unmotorable condition for the last three years and the lakes along the route had no proper embankment, though around 30,000 vehicles ply on the road everyday, speak volumes about the callousness of the authorities concerned. Reports indicating that the Union government had recently released Rs 9.2 crore for the temporary repair of the road and that a Rs 400 crore proposal to make the highway a four-lane road was pending before the Centre for the last three years, will bring no succour to the victims’ families whose loss can never be compensated. The government’s offer of Rs one lakh to the kin of deceased and Rs 50,000 to the injured is the usual charade which will not cover up the apathy of the official machinery which allowed the tragedy to occur in the first place.

What is most galling is that a leading Kannada newspaper had reported as late as November 22 about the dangerous state of the Mysore-Ooty highway, along with a photograph of the very lake which was the scene of the latest tragedy. The paper had spoken to a national highway engineer about the lack of safety and he had brushed it aside saying steps would be taken when four-laning was taken up. The state government should seriously consider prosecution of all the officials who were responsible for this wholly avoidable tragedy to bring in accountability to the functioning of the bureaucracy.

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