NATIONAL CONVENTION: Fight Back the Retrograde MV Act Amendment Bill

R Lakshmaiah

A NATIONAL Convention on Motor Vehicles Act Amendment Bill was held on February 15 at Mavlankar Hall in New Delhi. It was organised by the Co-ordination Committee of Road Transport Workers Organisations and other stakeholders. The organisations associated to the AITUC, CITU, INTUC, HMS, LPF, UTUC and AICCTU have jointly organised the convention.

K Hari Prasad, Member of Parliament and member of the Select Committee on MV Act Amendment Bill addressed the convention as the chief guest. He exposed how the union government is snatching the powers of the state governments and is trying to handover the road transport sector to big corporate houses. KK Divakaran moved the declaration and the action plan which were unanimously adopted by the convention.

It is a fact that India is on the top in the world with regard to road accidents and related deaths. The government says it has brought in the MV Act Amendment Bill to reduce accidents and deaths. Is it true? The state road transport corporations in the country have recorded the lowest number of accidents and are being awarded by the government. To reduce accidents, it will be wise to strengthen and expand the road transport corporations. But in Clauses 27 to 33 in the Bill, amendments to sections 66, 66A, 66B, 67, 72, 74, 88A and 92 are incorporated. Further, state transport undertaking (STU) buses are now exempted from third party insurance as the accident rate is very low. But in the amendment, it is made mandatory even for the STU buses which will lead to their natural death. At present, private travel operators are obtaining ‘Contract Carriage’ permits and operating as stage carriages violating the permit rules and looting the legitimate revenues of the STUs. Surprisingly, the Amendment has merged the two permits (stage carriage and contract carriage) into one permit as ‘Transport permit’. This is nothing but handing over the key to the thieves. These amendments prove that the motto behind the Bill is not to reduce accidents, but is something else.

What will happen if the STUs are closed down? It is a well established fact that after the formation of STUs and nationalisation of bus routes in the country, the agricultural sector has grown up vastly because the STUs provided connectivity to almost every remote village to towns. Thereby the farmers got access to sell their agricultural products. Secondly, the literacy rate has gone up due to two reasons.1) Connectivity to towns from villages. 2) Free and concessional travel facility provided by the STUs. Thirdly, the industrial sector also picked up due to the connectivity provided to all the industrial areas. These benefits cannot be quantified. Job reservation is being implemented as per law in the STUs, which has paved way for the SC, ST, BCs and women getting jobs in a big number. Apart from these three major benefits to the society, the STUs have provided connectivity to remote villages and hilly places without looking into profit and loss criteria. Income from rural operations would never suffice even to meet the operational costs. In spite of huge financial burden, the STUs are providing these services as a part of social responsibility on behalf of the governments.

If the STUs are closed down, private operators will not provide all these benefits as their only motto is to maximise their profits. It will be a bane for the society and the people at large.

Liberalisation of permits will lead to where? Permits will be issued indiscriminately and permit conditions will also be relaxed as proposed in the bill. By doing so, there will be cut-throat competition. Accident rates, pollution levels and traffic jams will go up. It will cause heavy damage to the society and the public. If the aim is to reduce accidents, why has the liberalisation of permits been proposed in the Bill?

Will abnormal increase in penalties and punishments reduce accidents? Nowhere has it happened. Punishments and penalties should be intended to make the defaulters realise not to repeat such mistakes. But the proposed increase in punishments and penalties is against this spirit. The government should first develop infrastructure in accordance with the ever increasing vehicular traffic. Secondly, awareness should be created among road users and the public in a big way. Thirdly, public transport should be strengthened and expanded and made affordable. Ignoring all these issues, if mere penalties and punishments are enhanced, it will only result in corruption going up high.

Penalties and punishments include a minimum penalty of Rs 500 and a maximum of Rs 1 lakh; imprisonment of upto three years. For example, for signal jump, stop line violation, hand signal, wrong overtaking, wrong route driving, the penalty is Rs10,000. If the police official feels that the driving of a person is dangerous, his/her driving license can be seized on the spot. Further a new penalty is incorporated as ‘Community Penalty’. This means the violators can be asked to work in the hospitals where the accident victims will be treated. This will be in addition to the penalty. In some cases, vehicle will be seized in addition to the penalty. If a minor drives a vehicle and involves in accidents, the parent/guardian or the owner will be jailed for three years, a penalty of Rs 25,000 will be imposed and the vehicle registration will be cancelled for one year. These are some examples only.

Why has the concept of ‘taxi aggregator’ come into the Amendment Bill? As of now, this is not there in the MV Act, 1988. What is meant by this? It is a mobile application based platform which connects the driver and the passenger like the Uber and Ola. This has no relevance in reducing accidents. This is introduced in Clause 34, Section 93. This is aimed at eliminating the individual auto rickshaw, taxi, truck, private bus operators etc and to hand over the transport sector to the big corporate houses. The individual vehicle owner cum driver would have to either attach their vehicles to the companies and depend on their mercy or leave the field. There will be no other go.

This Act also entails a threat to the livelihood of roadside mechanics, automobile spare parts dealers and driving schools. All types of vehicles, according to the Act, would have to be given for servicing or for repairs at authorised showrooms only. This would be a heavy burden on the vehicle owners. As far as spare parts are concerned, only branded company spare parts should be used. Using the local manufactured spare parts will be viewed as alteration and huge penalties will be levied. At present, a majority of the automobile spare parts are being manufactured by small and medium scale enterprises. The new amendment will badly hit these manufacturers. Big corporate driving schools will be authorised and the survival of existing small driving schools will be at stake.

Is it wise to burn down the entire house to get rid of rats from the house? In the name of arresting corruption, the Bill has paved way to outsource all works being done by the government transport department officials. This is not only a threat to the employees, but to the security of the nation at large and there will be no accountability. The MV Act Amendment Bill also encroaches into the powers and revenues of the states.

At the insistence of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the MV Act Amendment Bill was referred to the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha on August 8, 2017. The Select Committee interacted with some stakeholders including the AIRTWF. Some state governments have filed their objections. The Select Committee visited Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It also met many associations and took their views. The whole exercise took almost 135 days. Finally the Select Committee with a majority adopted the Bill clause by clause, without any amendment. The Select Committee even did not reiterate the general recommendations made by the earlier Standing Committee. Thus the Select Committee proved that it was only an eye-wash exercise. At that stage, some members in the Committee like CPI(M), Congress, DMK, AIADMK, TMC had submitted their dissent notes.

The government, particularly the surface transport minister, made all-out efforts to get the Bill passed. But, due to sustained struggles organised by the transport workers and the stakeholders in the country, it was delayed for almost four years. Finally, it was listed on the Rajya Sabha agenda during the first part of the budget session but could not be taken up due to other engagements. The second part of the budget session is going to start on March 5 and will continue till April 6. In this session, there is every danger of getting it passed by the Rajya Sabha.

In this background, the AIRTWF and the All India Co-ordination Committee of Transport Workers Organisations have given a call to get ready for an all India strike. Transport Workers in the country should get united and demonstrate their strength and fight back this retrograde Bill.

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