The place named Vattappara along National Highway (NH) 66 near Valancheri in Malappuram district, has hit news headlines frequently with its dubious distinction of having motor accidents one after another. As per available figures, 265 accidents have taken place there over the last four years. With the capsize of a gas tanker last Wednesday, one more is added to that number. Over the four years reported, 21 people died there and 151 sustained injuried.
On top of the deaths and injuries caused by accidents in Vattappara, there is another serious fallout from them. A good number of the accidents involve tankers carrying fuel and industsrial chemicals to Kochi from northern stations. The leak of substances from such vehicles literally puts the local population on pin pricks. It is not anything new for local residents to wake up from bed at midnight and flee for life with the looming threat of leakage of toxic substances. However, since Wednesday's accident did not lead to any gas leakage, people were saved from a major tragedy. What is disappointing is the apathy of authorities who have not so far taken any serious note of this despite recurrence of accidents at the same spot for so long.
Causes to which the repeating accidents are attributed are the geographical structure of the road, the unscientific banking used for roads with gradient and curve and so on. When accidents became routine and irate locals set out on strike in public, in 2002 the NH Authority came forward with attempts to improve the curve. With the road remaining closed for weeks and at a cost of crores of rupees, road maintenance works were carried out, but all of no avail: the very day it was reopened for traffic, there happened an accident. Apart from putting up a board saying 'Caution, accident-prone area' and a big convex mirror to view the vehicle on the other side of the curve, nothing more was done. And accidents continue to happen. It has been admitted by reponsible engineers themselves that there are faults in the very design of the patch, but no solutions appear to have been attempted.
Two escape routes have been suggested to avoid this hazardous curve. One is the bypass on NH from Kanjippura to Moodal. Although it is several years since the land acquisition was made for this bypass, construction of the road has not yet started. The second proposal is to improve the existing road starting from Puthanathani to Kuttippuram via Thirunavaya by straightening the curves and making it motorable for large vehicles. Whenever an accident happens at Vattppara, what the authorities immediately do now is to post policemen to stop vehicles at Puthanathani, and divert traffic via Thirunavaya. But there is no plan before the government to develop this as a permanent alternate route.
According to statistics released by the government in April 2017, there are 21 accident-prone areas along national and state highways in Malappuram district. The most dangerous of them is Vattappara. A large number of cooking gas tankers ply along this road every day between Mengaluru and Kochi, and all of them have to pass through Vattapparam. Naturally, the local residents pass each day in dread of a major accident.
In a way it is not Vattappara alone, but the entire NH stretch from Ramanattukara in Kozhikode district to Kuttippuram in Malappuram district is an accident-prone belt – full of steep gradients and dangerous curves. It is easy to reach Kozhikode from Ponnani along the coastal track via Chaliyam and Beypore. If a bridge is constructed in Beypore and the coastal road widened, the hardship and accidents in this stretch can be considerably reduced. But governments, despite talking about it from time to time, have not brought any of this to fruition. In fact, if the transport infrastructure is taken as a whole, Malabar is a big bottleneck – an area in where every road is a scene of long lines of vehicles moving at snail pace. The frequency of accidents as seen in Vattappara only aggravates the problem. The Vattappara curve is much more than a mere motor accident issue, it is indeed a black spot that puts the entire of life of an area on constant alert. Given the will, this is a problem that can be easily solved. The only question is whether the government is prepared to do that.