By Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda
The legislative agenda towards the end of the 16th Lok Sabha has gained momentum and seen the passage of many key reforms. There have been crucial legislations that have been passed in the Lok Sabha, but are still pending in the Rajya Sabha. This is symptomatic of an underlying need to revisit the role and powers of the Rajya Sabha. This is a subject on which I have advocated reforms, over the years.
To put it simply, if these legislations are not passed in the Rajya Sabha, they will lapse. We will lose this momentum and be back to square one, post 2019. With less than two sessions left and the prospective announcement of the general elections in the next few months, it is imperative that the focus be on pushing through legislative reforms now and promptly. One such legislation is the amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act—the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in April 2017.
The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, is almost three-decade-old and needs to be revisited. This period has seen a drastic increase in road density across the country, a multifold increase in the number of vehicles as well as introduction of new technologies like taxi aggregators. The amendment, as passed in the Lok Sabha, has taken cognisance of these issues. The most pressing aspect being road safety. In a recent report, the ministry of road transport & highways stated that about 4.6 lakh road accidents took place in 2017, which resulted in 1.5 lakh deaths and over 4.7 lakh injuries. A study from 2015 found that almost 50% of the fatalities are in the age group of 18-34 years, and about 34% of such accidents occur during the peak hours of 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
Road crashes happen due to many reasons. Various factors come into play before a collision takes place. Some of these are (in no particular order) disobeying traffic rules, poor road design, ill-maintained vehicles, poor enforcement of rules and regulations, etc. Road crashes are not only confined to India, but if we choose to ignore crashes in China, India tops the list. The scale of this problem is such that the WHO has noted road accidents to be a major public health problem. It is a global problem with more than 12 lakh deaths across the world, but, unfortunately, 90% of such casualties take place in developing countries.
To curb this health and social emergency, India has supported the Brasilia Declaration on Road Safety and intends to reduce road accidents and fatalities to half by 2022.
The amendment Bill aims at addressing this issue through a multipronged approach. The key features of the Bill are that it drastically enhances penalties and cashless treatment of road accident victims during the critical hour. Penalties are way stiffer for rule violations in comparison to the situation at present. On the other hand, cashless treatment will go a long way in saving victims of road accidents.
The dynamics of inflation has also been taken care of suitably, as rates will increase annually at 10%. Currently, if you are caught driving without a driving licence, it sets you back by just `500. With this Bill, the amount has been raised by a whopping 10 times, which will deter many. The rampant problem of drunken driving has been tackled by increasing the penalty from a nominal Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000. These steps, coupled with a stringent driving licence issuance procedure, will lead to more responsible drivers and driving in India. It’s essential, given that almost 78% accidents are found to be the fault of the driver. This amendment Bill takes a holistic approach and addresses the role of motor vehicle manufacturers.
It also puts in place a penalty of up to Rs 100 crore on a motor vehicle manufacturer if it fails to comply with construction or maintenance standards of vehicles.
Prior to the passing of the Bill in the Lok Sabha, there was much debate around this issue. I had advocated taking a closer look at this issue, which is responsible for almost 400 casualties every day.
Road safety is something that affects the daily lives of all Indians. If this Bill become law, it will ease some pressures on roads and the lives of commuters. With few days left in this session, the Rajya Sabha must understand the complex and widespread nature of this issue. It is my sincere urge that the lawmakers in the Rajya Sabha are able to deliberate upon and pass this necessary legislation.