April 05, 2015

Countrywide Strike in Road Transport on April 30

A K Padmanabhan

ROAD transport workers, under the banner of various centrally affiliated federations and also those independently functioning have been called upon to observe a countrywide one day strike on April 30. This strike will involve all sections of passenger traffic – autos, bus, both private and public – and also goods transport of different sections. This is the first time such a countrywide strike has been called in the road transport sector. The main issue, that has forced these unions and federations under various central trade unions – CITU, INTUC, BMS, AITUC, HMS, LPF, AICCTU, NLO and independents, is about the new Bill the NDA government wants to be passed urgently. The Bill – Road Transport and Safety Bill 2014 – is intended to replace the existing Motor Vehicles Act 1988. The Bill according to its aims and objectives, is “to reduce the road accidents and fatalities, to boost the GDP growth and to create lakhs of employment to youth”. The road transport minister, who wanted this Bill to be adopted in the budget session has said that his aim is to “make the entire sector transparent.” He had also said that “when enacted the new law would overhaul the sector bringing in transparency besides curbing malpractices”. He has also projected 4 per cent GDP improvement on account of increased efficiency and safety of road transport. The vision of the Bill, according to him, is to create 10 lakh jobs. The magic wand to ensure safety on the road is hefty fines upto Rs 3 lakh and imprisonment upto seven years to the drivers. According to the minister, this one enactment will “provide safe, efficient, cost effective and faster transport across the country” which he says is their mission. But, the trade unions in the country, certain state governments, officials in the transport departments of the state governments, state government owned PSUs and motor vehicle owners organisations do not consider this Bill as something that can result in achievements as projected by the minister. Trade unions took initiative to bring out the retrograde aspects of the bill – the attacks on the workers; taking away the rights of the state governments and handing it over to various authorities; a sure death knell for the 54 State road transport undertakings in the country and the hefty fine and punishment to all drivers, both private and service sector. In total, this Bill is against the interests of 4 crores of road transport workers, private transport owners, public sector undertakings, passengers and the general public. Various programmes were conducted by the unions in different parts of the country to expose the retrograde features of the Bill. A massive March to Parliament was organised on December 18, 2014. Detailed memorandums were submitted to the government. All-out efforts are being made to mobilise the workers through conventions, jathas, and demonstrations and also to seek the support of the vehicle operators’ organisations in different parts of the country. More efforts are required to reach out to the public and expose the government’s efforts to cover up the retrograde features by raising the issue of fatal accidents alone. This is being done as if, only the drivers are responsible for the accidents and hefty fines and severe imprisonments will be the solution! OBJECTIONS BY THE STATE GOVERNMENTS At least some of the state governments have raised objections to the Bill when it was discussed in the National Transport Development Council and National Road Safety Council. The state transport minister of Tamilnadu, for example, in the above said meetings on October 28, 2014, had listed his opposition to the new bill saying that it encroaches on the powers of the state. The role of the state government, of state transport corporations have been totally obliterated and powers of state governments are being handed over to national authorities. He had also pointed out that “the rationale to introduce such drastic changes and throw away lock, stock and barrel the existing provisions in the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 is totally unwarranted.” The Tamilnadu government in a detailed study of the provisions of the Bill has pointed out to the government of India, that there is no expediency to repeal the existing Act and certain amendments can be made. They said that the “Government of Tamilnadu wholly object to the proposed Bill from being enacted in the parliament on the ground of vires of constitutional provisions and also the public interests that would be jeopardised throughout the country”. It is the public interest along with the worker related issues that the trade unions have taken up against the Bill. Hence, it is a necessity that this struggle of the road transport workers, including the one day countrywide strike on April 30 is supported by all sections of the society. It is also an important fact that this struggle is being organised when various other sections of working people including other sections in transport sector like the railways, ports and airport authority are also on struggle against various anti-people, anti-worker policies of the government like privatisation, corporatisation and opening up for FDI.