Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill: now or never

The newly adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has set an ambitious target of halving the number of road accident deaths and injuries worldwide. Without sustained action, road crashes are predicted to become the seventh leading cause of death by 2030. More than 1.3 million people die each year in road crashes and around 50 million are severely injured. Out of every 10 lives lost in traffic, nine are lost in low and middle-income countries.

India is one of the signatories of the Brasilia Declaration, which is a call to rethink transportation policies and highlights strategies to ensure the safety of all road users, particularly by improving laws and enforcement.

However, in India, an average of 1.5 lakh people die every year. Some accidents are so severe that more than 30 to 50 people die in a single mishap.

For example, a bus plunged into a gorge in Himachal Pradesh in April this year, in which 30 people died, including 27 children. In July, 48 people died when an overloaded bus fell into a gorge in Uttarakhand. The central and state governments need to be accountable for this sorry state of affairs because of weak laws and poor enforcement of the same.

Strengthening the law is the first step. The Motor Vehicle (Amendment) (MVA) Bill, 2017, is important due to the radical changes it makes to the 30-year-old law. It proposes high penalties for various traffic offences, three-year jail for parents of minor drivers causing fatal accidents, compulsory insurance cover to all road users, etc. This amendment bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in August 2016, proposes 68 amendments, out of which 23 are related to road safety.

Nearly 50% of those killed in road accidents could have been saved had they been given timely assistance.

A World Health Organisation report says that “skilled and empowered bystanders play a crucial role in saving lives” and “in order to enable bystanders to come forward and help injured persons, a supportive legal and ethical environment is needed”.

The Supreme Court in March 2016 approved the guidelines issued by the Centre for the protection of ‘Good Samaritans’ from being harassed by police or any other authority. However, these guidelines were not implemented effectively at the state level and police forces need to get used to these guidelines. The MVA Bill, 2017, has incorporated a section on Good Samaritans, which clearly defines the roles, responsibilities and protective measures for Good Samaritans.

Unaddressed concerns

The MVA Bill, 2017, is presently before the Rajya Sabha. After being introduced in the Lok Sabha, the bill had under gone elaborate review by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, which submitted its report in February 2017 and the Lok Sabha passed the bill in April 2017 without much discussion.

Later, when the bill was placed in the Rajya Sabha, several states and opposition parties expressed concerns about certain provisions in the bill. Hence, it was referred to a Rajya Sabha select committee. Some concerns raised were about the powers to issue National Permit, taking away the licensing powers of Regional Transport Authorities, centralising the collection of transport-related taxes, etc.  

The southern states have also collectively objected to some of the provisions, such as doing away with the minimum educational qualification for driving licence applicants, ceiling of insurers’ liability, exempting private vehicles under mandatory automated fitness testing, etc. Some political parties opined that the bill subverted the principle of federalism by seeking to abrogate powers of the state government relating to road transport.

Though the select committee did an elaborate consultation process with all key stakeholders for more than four months, it finally submitted the report to the Rajya Sabha without proposing any amendment to the bill passed by the Lok Sabha, on the assurance of Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari that all concerns would be addressed on the floor of the House. But when the bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on July 23, the minister himself was missing.   

Though there was a consensus on provisions related to road safety, during the discussions in Rajya Sabha, most opposition MPs who spoke expressed their objections to the dilution of the states’ powers.

The discussion was abandoned half-way through since the minister was not present to hear the discussions.

It is time Gadkari fulfilled the assurance given to the members of the select committee to address the concerns and save the bill. Though Gadkari had agreed for informal consultations with various political parties to iron out the differences, no discussion has taken place so far nor has any time been fixed for discussions. Unless Gadkari takes the initiative, it is doubtful whether Rajya Sabha will again take up the bill for discussion in this session.

We earnestly hope that Gadkari will take charge of things and ensure its smooth passage in this session of parliament itself with the support of all political parties, in the interest of thousands of common people who are dying on Indian roads. If it doesn’t happen during this session, this bill is unlikely to be passed during the tenure of the current government. The crucial MVA Bill faces a ‘now or never’ situation. Let us hope that it will see the light of day soon.

(Cheriyan is Director and Sharma is Senior Programme Officer at CUTS International, a global public policy research and advocacy group)

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Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill: now or never

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