On several days days in a month, it is a dangerous life - or - death road crossing for thousands of school children and the public in Kakkapalayam.
Since the death of a girl student of the Government Higher Secondary School in Kakkapalayam while crossing the Salem-Coimbatore National Highway (NH 47)to reach the school on an exam day in the year 2011, the Salem City Traffic Police and the Highway Patrol stop speeding vehicles before and after the school hours to enable the students cross the road to reach the school which is on the Salem-Coimbatore Highway (NH 47). The cops stay for about one hour to stop vehicles for late coming students and teachers. But on many days the police strength is diverted for VIP bandobust duty leaving the school children at a great risk reaching the school and returning home. Identified as a black spot with 15 accidents and 3 fatalities between 2015 to 2018,the Kakkapalayam Government Higher Secondary School continues to remain a black spot with no measures till date to make life safer for the villagers of Kakkapalayam and neighbouring village.
*A strategic location*
A large panchayat in the Veerapandi Union, in Salem District,Kakkapalaym has a bustling shandy where farmers from several nearby villages converge. 17 kms from Salem city, Kakkapalayam is located centrally from from important textile weaving clusters like Veerpandi,Vembadithalam,Illampillai and Seeragapadi. It also lies on the intersection of local roads leading to several schools and colleges in neighbouring Namakkal District (an education hub)..The local vehicular traffic has increased several fold over the last ten years with with necessity to intercept national highway traffic. A high amount of criss-crossing of the national highway pedestrians and local vehicles takes place throughout at Kakkapalayam.
The Government Higher Secondary School in Kakkapalayam alone has 4000 students of whom 3000 children have to cross the road to reach the school in the morning, evening and in the afternoon during examination days. In spite of the road markings, sign boards and blinkers indicating road crossing and barricades put across the road to block one lane of the road near the Government Higher Secondary School in Kakkapalayam, vehicles zip past at very high speed violating speed limits.
Outraged by the death of the girl student in an accident,while crossing the highway in the year 2011, the people in and around the village protested continually for a permanent solution for the frequent accidents.” Officials promised the people to address the issue with construction of a foot-over bridge as a temporary measure and a permanent bridge as a long term step, nothing has happened till date,” says Palanisamy a parent of a girl student of the Government Higher Secondary School. Between 2011 and 2014 National Highway Authority of India (NAHAI) recognised 11black spots on the three National Highway roads that pass through, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri, Salem and Namakkal Districts District. Black spot list rose to 111 between 2015-2018 and Kakkapalayam found place in the latest list which was released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways on December 5, 2019.
Intriguingly several bridges are under construction in fast-track mode in Salem City under the comprehensive mobility plan. Three of them are on the Bangalore-Kaniyakumari National Highway (NH 7) and have been completed with state government funds. The State Government is also funding the construction of three more bridges outside Salem city limits which are under construction at an outlay of Rs 45 crore each at Illampillai intersection on NH (7), at Ariyanoor on NH 47 (at Aatayampattiroad intersection) and another one at Magudanchavadi on NH 47 (at Edappadi road intersection). The bridges at Ariyanoor bridge Magudanchavadi bridge are coming up hardly four kilometres away from Kakkapalayam) at an outlay of Rs 45 crore each. “We are unable to comprehend as to why Kakkapalayam bridge proposal has been overlooked or postponed while works have started in Illampillai intersection, Aryanoor andat Magudanchavadi. It would have made better sense if three bridges with one in Kakkapalayam were constructed simultaneously”, says Ramasamy a farmer from Kakkapalayam.
The explanation by NHAI officials is that the State Government had sought clearance from NHAI to take up infrastructure improvement wherever the state highway roads intersect with the national highways. But according to rulling party sources Kakkapalayam was bypassed because funds for only one bridge could be allocated to each MLA of Veerapandi and Sankagiri constituencies. S.Manaonmaniyam the MLA of Veerpandiconstitutency who proposed the bridge at Ariyanoor and got the nod from the Chief Minister Eappadi K Palanisamy, says she has put up the request for a bridge at Kakkapalayam too and the Chief Minister had agreed to sanction it. An announcement is likely to be made in the forth coming state budget session of State Assembly she said.V.Ramesh, the President of Parents Teachers Association (PTA) of the Government School in Kakkapalayam echoes the same information. The school children and teachers have signed an petitions and given it to the government through the MLA, MP and the PTA, inquiries revealed.
Deputy General Manager cum Project Director, NAHAI, N.Varadharajan says that a bridge with an underpass at Kakkapalayam has been proposed and will be put up for administrative sanction next week. The work will be taken up by the NHAI itself he said. However he could not indicate the time when the work commencement stage will be reached.
Meanwhile, the Traffic Police and National Highway Patrol constables attend the Kakkapalayam beat daily to help children cross the road. However random checks reveal that on many days in a months they are not present. On such occasions, school teachers are assigned duty by turns to accompany the children while crossing the road. Lower class children are made to walk between grown up children of higher classes while crossing the road. However teachers don’t stay long for late commers and lack of a bridge continues to pose a danger to the school children and the public.
Reported and written by George Rajasekaran. The article is written as part of the WHO’s Media Fellowship for Road Safety 2019.
(Centre for Community Media)