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S.M. Ali Is The Drive Behind Road Safety Awareness In His State

S.M. Ali Is The Drive Behind Road Safety Awareness In His State
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WHEN Syed Maqbool Ali first took the message of road safety to the city streets, people thought he had nothing better to do. One associate even quipped, "either he must have lost his job or he wants to become a neta". The young engineer was home for a vacation from Singapore where he worked as a consultant for an offshore oil drilling company, Atwood Oceanics Pacific Ltd. It was at that time that Ali lost his mentor, Dr Shankar Mishra, a maths professor at Utkal University, to a road accident. He was riding pillion on a scooter when he fell and hit his head. He died on the spot.

The incident brought home forcibly to Ali that carelessness and lack of awareness leads to heavy loss of life on roads. "On an average 65,000 people die and five lakh injured due to road accidents in India every year," says Ali. In Orissa, the government statistic pegs death from road accidents at 988, but this figure is for 1997.

Ali decided to do something about it. In 1982, together with a group of young professionals, he started the Prevention of Accidents Society of Orissa or PASO. Recounting their first drive, launched on February 21, 1983, he says: "Eight of us descended on the main city square (AG Square where all important offices of Bhubaneswar are located) in the evening. Originally we had 15 banners for 15 members but seven didn't turn up. We looked rather foolish holding two banners each. And then the members started slipping away, till there were just three."

The idea was to have a week-long campaign, concentrating on officegoers returning home in the evening. Between 4-6 pm every day, the volunteers addressed pedestrians and two-wheelers with a megaphone, requesting them to follow traffic rules and save lives. But it didn't work. Till Ali thought of recruiting school children. The next day, about 15 students in the age group 13 to 16 years hit the streets. The campaign was a success! People seemed to listen and respond better to the children-"that's why PASO spreads its messages through schools and colleges," says former DG, Police, R.M. Patnaik, a life member of PASO.

Since then PASO has grown in strength and credibility. It was registered under the Societies Registration Act and is recognised by both the state government and the ministry of surface transport as the nodal agency for road safety in Orissa. Today it has 81 life members, including five corporate members with active units in five major cities. Ali was also able to persuade the Traffic Training Institute in the capital to set up training and refresher programmes for officers and students. Seventy-five road safety patrol captains were trained to set up road safety patrol units in schools. Each unit has 32 members, who're fully aware of Road Safety and actively involve themselves in awareness programmes. They help stress on the three Es-Engineering, Environment and Education.

PASO conducts regular training, rallies, seminars, exhibitions, as well as debates, competitions and talks on road safety. It's taken up studies on road safety with the help of various organisations including the state home department. It's doing a project with xim, Bhubaneswar, on road safety problems in coastal Orissa. It participates with the state police in maintaining traffic safety during the rathyatra every year. In 1997, the Bhubaneswar Traffic Control and Road Safety Group was formed at Ali's initiative.

Ali also coordinated with the Transport Commissioners' Office to organise a training programme for 460 long route bus and truck drivers in the state. With the help of its first corporate member, the Indian Metals and Ferro Alloys Ltd, it set up 180 traffic sign posts in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. It also introduced the trend of traffic messages behind buses and persuaded the state government to introduce road safety in school curricula. For its efforts, PASO's been recommended for the National Road Safety Award by the state government.

Ali is a member of both the state and national Road Safety Councils. And, incidentally, he is not out of work. He is a full time consultant for a US oil mnc, Century Drilling Ltd. To contact him, write at 95, Surya Nagar, Bhubaneswar, or e-mail to smaqali@vsnl.net.in or call 405667.

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