Vol. XL No. 36 September 04, 2016

Attempt to Hand over Transport Sector to Private Players under Garb of Road Safety

R Lakshmaiah

Nearly two years after formulating the draft road transport and safety legislation, the government placed the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in the Lok Sabha on August 8. While tabling the Bill, which seeks to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari said it was aimed at reducing road accidents and fatalities. He cautioned the members that if the passage of the Bill is delayed, more people will die. Now, let us see the real face of the Bill and its implications.
The ministry uploaded the draft Road Transport and Safety Bill, 2014 on the website on September 12. Following criticism from all quarters, it was revised four times without changing its basic content, which led to two all-India strikes. Then the government changed its approach and constituted a panel with 18 states transport ministers, headed by the Rajasthan state transport minister, to study the draft Bill and suggest recommendations. The panel, after three rounds of sittings, came to the conclusion that the Bill as it is cannot be approved. It recommended amendment to 34 sections of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The sections were identified and submitted to the ministry.
Surprisingly, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill overrules all but one recommendation of the panel. The panel’s recommendation for insurance coverage to drivers has also been omitted in the Amendment Bill. The Bill amended 68 sections, inserted 19 new sections, omitted three and substituted two section of the principal act. By doing so, the road transport and highways ministry has insulted the panel of ministers. The way it was placed in the Lok Sabha also violated all existing procedures of the house. Even the members were not supplied copies of the Bill. Why it happened is the big question.
In the amendment to Section 135 of the principal Act, it is stated as “it empowers the central government to make schemes for in-depth studies and analysis of causes of road accidents”. This proves that the central government has not studied the causes of accidents so far. Without study and analysis, why has this whole exercise been carried out for the last two years? That means reduction of accidents and fatalities is not the main concern of the central government. Some hidden agenda is prompting its move.
The Bill takes away the rights of state governments with regard to issuance of permits and driving licences and registration of motor vehicles. This is in violation of the federal structure of the country. In the amendment to Section 94 of the principal Act, it is stated as “to act to oust the jurisdiction of civil courts to entertain any question or issue injunction relating to the issue of licences under a scheme made under Chapter V”. By making such amendment, the central government again attacked the judiciary.
Amendments to sections 66, 67, 72, 74 and insertion of sections 66B and 88A are aimed at dismantling state road transport corporations which are maintaining the lowest accident record and hand over the transport sector to big national and multinational corporate houses who are greedy of profits even at the cost of the passengers’ lives. At present, contract carriage permit holder cannot operate as stage carriage and doing so is a punishable offence under the 1988 Act. But the operators are violating permit rules and operating as stage carriages. Now with this amendment, the government wants to hand over the keys to the thieves and made the “illegality as legal”. Further, special provisions given to state transport corporations in the 1988 Act will become null and void once the proposed amendment is carried out.
Amendments to sections 41, 56, 93, 110B and 89 are aimed at privatising the functions of the state transport departments. This will encourage corruption, creates anarchy and the number of accidents will go up.
The amendment to Section 138 of the principal Act will provide rights to eliminate non-motorised transport (bicycle, manual rickshaw, carts, etc,) and regulate pedestrians. Thereby, the poor unorganised manual transport workers will lose their livelihood and the pedestrians will also be put under many restrictions. The amendment to Section 19 will provide unlimited powers to police to harass drivers. Section 30 of the principal Act is being amended to increase penalties and punishments on drivers.
In a nutshell, it is proved that the government under the garb of road safety is pushing for handing over the Indian automobile market to corporate houses and withdraw from its responsibility. The central government is committed to serve the interests of the corporate houses at the cost of the poor and middle class sections.
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016, attacks the constitution, judiciary, federal structure of the country, state-owned road transport corporations, millions of individual vehicle owners/operators and the people at large.
In this background, the All India Road Transport Workers Federation appeals to all connected with the transport industry, particularly individual vehicle owners, to participate in the September 2 strike in a big way. It also appeals to state governments, led by parties other than NDA constituents which are opposing the amendment Bill, to come out openly and support the strike.