On June 13, 2014, Nitin Gadkhari, the Roads and Transport minister of India announced a new idea. Actually, it is a very old idea and perhaps, he might have heard of it for the first time and then naturally in his enthusiasm or “Eureka moment “he thinks it is very original and new idea and thus far, no one in the universe thought of it.
Gadkhari grandly espoused this “new” idea thus:
“The length of National Highways in the country is one lakh kilometre. I have asked officials to come out with a plan to plant 200 crore trees along these stretches which in turn would create jobs for the unemployed on the one hand and protect the environment on the other,” Road Transport, Highways, Shipping and Rural Development Minister Nitin Jairam Gadkari said in New Delhi on Friday.
If only, the world was that simple. Gadkhari should have read up some books or articles on road safety and how other countries have dealt with this idea of planting trees along roads. It is no doubt a wonderful scenic view to have trees dot the entire roads and highways. It does change the environment and there s greenery. But there is also a downside.
Till recently, most long-distance roads had trees planted along. This gave shade to travelers. Transport was usually on horseback and both horses and people needed shade and greenery. The old British roads in India had wonderful trees planted along them. Even now, we can see their remnants at some places.
There were few vehicles even till 50 years and shade protected roads and made the journey less boring. But recent studies have shown that most fatal accidents occur along road with trees planted beside them. This is because when the vehicle goes out of control or driver goes to sleep, the vehicle dashes against the trees at high speeds. Trees resist the speeding vehicle and there are serious accidents and injuries and most drivers die. In fact, France has done some serious studies on such accidents. Gadkhari should get hold of such studies and then start start dreaming of 200 crore trees.
We need trees. But before making a new accident possibility, government should consider how to build mud buffers between the trees and roads. If the idea was so simple, other countries would have done it before us. In fact, what the roads need are toilets. There are very few toilets along our one lakh KM length highways. Gadkhari shoul start with toilets. Toilets do not cause accidents and they can be used the day they are built.
First do the toilets. Then graduate to terse. But only after studying all the available literature on this topic. Tress can wait for a few months. But people need toilets right away.