A video circulating on Twitter showed friendly men in khaki stopping vehicles on a road in Kerala and providing water and goodies over a little chat. While some recognised them as officials working for the Motor Vehicles Department (MVD) of Kerala and some others guessed the initiative was for those breaking their Ramzan fast, it wasn’t clear what the campaign was or what they chatted about.
Waah! Lovely Gesture by #Kerala Government. When Motor Vehicle Department's official vehicle is used to serve Biryani and Water Bottle to break the day's fasting for #Ramzan in Malappuram District. Hope it will be done for #Sabarimala Pilgrims who also observe 41 days Vrata pic.twitter.com/OhcetSArQn— Suresh €n (@surnell) May 18, 2019
TG Gokul, Joint RTO, Enforcement unit of MVD, Malappuram, says it is part of an initiative to reduce road accidents. “May is a month when there is always an increase in the number of accidents. Reasons could be summer vacations and the presence of unlicensed drivers trying to learn driving. The public perception is that it is okay to do this, that this is acceptable. That had to change.”
He adds, “Also for the last three years, a part of Ramzan has been falling in May. By four in the evening, many motorists – and Malappuram being a predominantly Muslim area – could be very tired after fasting all day. I have seen an auto driver fall asleep out of fatigue. It is very hot too. So in a hurry to reach the mosque in the evening and then head home to break their fast, they might end up speeding. To address all this, we speak to commuters about driving carefully, while providing them water and a small kit of snacks.”
The department also uses it as an opportunity to talk about the problems of driving under fatigue, he says.
The enforcement wing is fairly new in Malappuram, having been posted only in January and becoming functional by the end of February. The officials began working in March with the aim of bringing down deaths due to road accidents. “It is too early to give an official number, but if you look at March and April this year, the number of deaths due to road mishaps have come down by 18 from the corresponding months last year.”
The idea comes from the Safe Kerala project initiated as an extension of the Safe Zone project that was implemented 9 to 10 years ago to provide services to Sabarimala pilgrims, when there were issues with the vehicles they travelled in. “We would be on special duty and on call for 24 hours. That was a success and the Safe Kerala project came about as an extension of that.”
It was last year that Transport Minister AK Saseendran announced that the Safe Kerala project would be extended to all 14 districts with 85 enforcement squads as part of it.
Gokul says that the enforcement squads employ different strategies in different districts and for different months. “Next month is the time educational institutions will reopen and monsoon will begin. So we will devise strategies to prepare people for it.”