Enforcement lies with states

Enforcement lies with states

The Motor Vehicle Act of 1988 – the principal law for regulating all activities related to motor vehicles in the country – had not kept pace with the change of dynamics of road transport and information technology. After the Lok Sabha approved amendments to the law in the just concluded Budget Session of Parliament, it now awaits the Rajya Sabha’s approval, which is likely to happen during the Monsoon Session.

Since the transport sector is in the domain of the state governments, the level of success of the amended law rests with them. In fact, the states, too, have their own concerns over the increasing number of vehicles as well as road accidents.

When a panel headed by Rajasthan Transport Minister Yoonus Khan and comprising transport ministers of various states as members was constituted to deliberate issues in the transport sector, the states overwhelmingly argued for the need to overhaul the system to meet the challenges. The changes, which were proposed after extensive consultations with all the stakeholders, received wide appreciation from several members in the Lok Sabha when the bill came up for discussion.

The amended law is not just about imposing hefty fines. Instead, the main emphasis is on bringing radical changes in the transport department and fixing accountability on service providers as the Centre vowed to reduce road fatalities by 50% by 2020 from the existing over 5 lakh a year. For example, under the proposed system, everyone will have to go to the licence issuing authorities under a uniform procedure and if the licence is not issued in three days, then the RTO will face action.

But, the state governments have to gear up and make changes in the administrative set-up in the transport department as per the amended law. These changes include issuing learning licences online, electronic service delivery with set deadlines, switching to automated driving test from the present manual testing etc. Some states have started such centres.

“As elimination of corruption is one of the key reforms proposed by the motor vehicle bill, the states have to start working on adopting the technology, like providing latest portable cameras to traffic and transport officials or install CCTVs at various locations. This will help reduce human intervention and assist the states to redeploy traffic police at important junctions,” says K K Kapila, chairman of International Road Federation, a Geneva-based global body working for better and safer roads worldwide.

“While the amended law proposes to increase penalty for overloading in commercial vehicles, the state governments should set-up more checkpoints with weighing facilities on key highways. If there is no facility for it, then what is the use of imposing a hefty fine?” Kapila asks.

Though digitisation of vehicles and drivers’ documents will have to be done by October 2018, many states have to pull up their socks in expediting the task. Even the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, headed by Trinamool Congress MP Mukul Roy, expressed doubts over the states preparedness in implementing many features of the law. Though the Ministry of Road Transport wanted the automated testing stations for issuing vehicle fitness certificates to be implemented from October 1, 2018, the panel said the Centre should take states into confidence before fixing dates as many states have sought more time.

Fine won’t solve problem
“Road safety is a complex issue comprising road construction technology, motor vehicle technology and the upgradation of skills of road users - both vehicle drivers and pedestrians. Mere enhancement of penalties will not solve the problem,” the standing committee has stated.

“Unless there is least human interference in enforcement of the law, it will not achieve the desired results. As the amended law proposes a hefty fine, the state should think that higher fine is just to deter the traffic offenders not to increase their revenue from the transport sector,” says S P Singh of Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training, a think tank.

However, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari is confident on taking the states on board. “Since the changes proposed were based on the suggestions by the states, I am hopeful that they will enforce the law properly. The Centre will give the required funds for modernising the system,” says Gadkari.

Though the existing law has several features to regulate motor vehicles, many were not implemented by the states. They will have to act now with more responsibility.