Much water has flown under the bridge since the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 was enforced from 1 st July 1989. The number of people killed in road catastrophes in India is second highest in the world and accounts for almost 1.5 lakhs per year. This translates into 17 people dying every hour. Another 5 lakhs are seriously injured in road crashes. Road crashes account for more than 44% of all unnatural accidental deaths in India and 51% of all those killed between the ages of 18 and 30. Maybe these are just statistics but it is destroying India from within. Killing people relentlessly in their most productive ages.
Currently, the act which regulates all aspects of road transport vehicles is the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. But this law is archaic now when seen through changes that have occurred in the transportation sector and mushrooming of vehicles and population. When the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 was passed in 1988, India had a population of 83 Crores. Fast forward to 2018 and we have multiplied to 132 crores.
Road crash fatalities in India were 49,218 in 1988 and in 2017 the corresponding figure was 1,46,377, a three-fold increase in 30 years.
India has only about 2% of the world’s motor vehicles but accounts for over 12% of its traffic casualty deaths, making the Indian road network most unsafe in our world. Road crashes are a global problem but this problem is especially acute in developing countries like India. 31 years is a long time period and it is high time that we recognise the need for having an updated legislative framework which can account for the significant developments that have occurred in road transport. We must now look beyond commemorative activities such as the Road Safety Week, and focus on more long-term interventions to save lives.
The first major step towards road safety is overhauling this law. The central government did this by introducing a new bill known as Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2017. A major work was done by Civil Society Organizations in spurring the government to draft this new bill. While drafting this law there was a focused discussion of the systemic policy gaps that the road transportation sector in India is grappling with. These were attempted to be bridged.
Like how many times we read that a particular person died in road crash due to potholes. But negligence on the part of road owners or maintenance authorities is never brought to book. Or a road accident victim is lying on the road and crying for help. That cry is futile as people who want to help don’t do so fearing legal tangles. This bill has provisions for penalizing road contractors and protection of Good Samaritans among many. Faulty vehicle design/parts will attract a whopping penalty besides recall.
Your license is seized in one state - No problem, get a new license can be made in another state, this is due to the absence of a central registry. This has also resulted in one person holding multiple driving licenses issued by different states. This new bill has provision for a central registry. The bill does have a special provision for severe penalties. Hefty fines for rash driving, traffic violations, not wearing helmets or seat belts, drink driving, over speeding, talking on a mobile phone while driving or riding will no longer be tolerated. A compensation of Rs 2 lakh or more will be provided by the government regarding the deaths in hit-and-run cases which as of now is Rs 25,000 only.
This MVA 2017 bill has been passed by Lok Sabha on 10th April 2017 but it is currently pending for passage in Rajya Sabha for more than a year after going through several parliamentary committees. Road crash spare no one, be they rich or poor, urban or rural, young or old, man or woman or of any caste or religion. The best way to honour the countless road crash victims would be to demonstrate that we did not fail to learn our lessons from their suffering.
The legislators, therefore, need to take tough decisions which are in the best interest of the country. As a heartfelt plea to the lawmakers in the upper house I beseech them to shed their political differences for the national interest and loudly say “aye” to this bill in the ongoing monsoon session and contribute towards saving of 404 lives every day.
The passage of this MVA Bill, 2017 will not stop all the road crashes happening in the country overnight but it is the first step towards making our road safer for all road users.
Author: Prof Sri Ram Khanna, Former Head, Dean of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics, Managing Trustee: Consumer Voice
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