The emergency call boxes (ECBs) along both sides of a section of national highway no. 8 (connecting Virar to Surat), are currently playing the role of showpieces instead of helping stranded commuters contact the relevant authorities in case of a breakdown or accident. Kandivali resident Mehul Kataria, also an RTI activist, learnt this the hard way, when his car broke down on his way to Dahanu on Tuesday.
Just after Kataria and his family had crossed Virar, their car began to sputter. "We had three children in the car, so we were really worried. That's when we saw the emergency phones. I rushed to the booth only to find that the phone wasn't working," said Kataria.
"The road was flooded and there had already been 2-3 accidents along this stretch. I managed to drive the car a little further and tried to call from other EBCs. But even those weren't working. Finally, we somehow managed to get the car to work," said the activist.
When they reached a toll naka, Kataria and his friends ask its staff why the EBCs were not working. "They seemed clueless. It was surprising, because so many tourists, especially foreigners, who are first-time visitors, take this route. What will they do in case of an emergency?" he asked.
On Wednesday, Kataria filed an RTI with the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) demanding an explanation. He was shocked to find that the EBCs between Virar and Charoti were not defunct, they had not been connected at all.
Mukund Attarde, manager, technical NHAI, said that the phones lines had not yet been connected. He advised commuters to instead call on helpline numbers displayed every few metres along the highway. "We have already commissioned the lines between Charoti and Surat. From Mumbai to Charoti will be done in another month's time," said Attarde, adding that if all goes well, lines may start working in 15 days.