September 22, 2019

Hike in Traffic Fines Draws Public Outcry, States Stall Imposition

R Lakshmaiah


THE central government has hiked the penalty amount by ten times and made provision of imprisonment in the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019. Spiked penalty even for minor offences like riding without a helmet or seatbelt, delayed insurance renewal and license renewal etc came into force across the country from September 1. These penalties will be increasing by ten per cent every year on April 1, as notified by the central government. The move has drawn huge public outcry.

Sensing people’s anger, several state governments including BJP-ruled states and those in opposition-ruled states who voted in favour of the amendments in the Act, are running for cover. States run by the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Telangana Rashtra Samithi and YSR Congress have already postponed the implementation of the revised penalties. In Rajasthan, the Congress government has reduced penalties. BJP ruled states like Karnataka and Maharashtra have postponed implementation. BJP’s Gujarat and Jharkhand governments have already cut the penalty rates. Bihar’s BJP-JD(U) government has kept the imposition in abeyance.

The essence of the amendments is that fear is the key to enforce safety mandates and that drivers are exclusively responsible for accidents. But in reality, lack of traffic infrastructure, bad road conditions, defects in construction of the roads etc are major factors for accidents. Further, non-availability of adequate public transport and encouragement for private vehicles transport through low or interest-free loans have resulted in flooding of the roads with motor vehicles, causing more number of accidents. Without addressing all these issues, mere enhancement of penalties will not reduce the accidents.

Furthermore, seizure of vehicle, suspension of driving license and increase in penalty for the second offence are part of the new amendment. The implementation of these will only result in increasing the unrest further.

However, the real purpose of amendment is aimed at handing of the entire road transport sector, both passenger and goods, to giant corporates. There was no provision in the original Act of 1988; but, now, in this amendment in 2019, provision has been made for them in the name of ‘aggregators’. This is the main purpose of the amendment. If the entire road transport sector is taken over by the corporates, workers will become the first victims. The people at large will have to bear the burden of higher fares.

 In addition, the provision has been made in the amended Act for the big companies to set up vehicle testing centres. After the notification by the central government, no vehicle can obtain a fitness certificate without the certificate from the corporate testing agencies.

Many new sections have been incorporated in the amendment Act to weaken the state-owned public transport corporations. In fact, according to the government reports, lowest accident rate is recorded in these public sector road transport corporations.

 Further, the activities of the government’s transport department are going to be handed over to private agencies, which not only poses a threat to the employees but in the long run it will leave the private firms with no accountability for any misdeeds. Even today, in some states, where the power of registration of the new vehicle is entrusted to the dealers, under invoicing is widely reported to have caused losses to the state exchequer. If all the functions are handed over to private agencies, one can assume the larger picture of the problem.  

The MV (Amendment) Act, 2019, is nothing but a cut and paste exercise from different countries’ laws. But many intellectuals have raised the issue that in no country in the world, the penalties are higher than the daily earnings of a person and in India, this point has been ignored. It looks like the real intention of the government is to force the vehicle owners and drivers to leave the profession and depend on the giant corporates.

Through MV (Amendment) Act, 2019, the central government has taken over many powers of the states or encroached upon their powers in issuing permits formulating schemes etc, affecting the centre-state relations. 

Modi-1 government had brought ‘Road Transport and Safety Bill, 2014’ with similar provisions as in the MV (Amendment) Act, 2019. From that time onwards, the transport workers and all other stakeholders across the country are on the path of continuous struggle against the bill. For the first time since independence, transport workers went on a nationwide successful strike on April 30, 2015, against that bill. Again on August 7, 2018, transport workers resorted to nationwide strike with a larger participation of the workers. In between, the transport workers also joined the all India strikes jointly called by the central trade unions against the retrograde and anti-people policies of the government.  The government, however, passed the bill with a changed title in 2019 and maintained the same content as in the earlier bill.

Due to workers struggles and stiff opposition from the opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha, the 2014 Bill could not be passed until the parliament election in 2019. Along with the CPI(M), CPI and DMK; Congress, TMC, AIADMK also opposed the earlier bill and recorded their dissent during the examination of the bill by the select committee of the parliament. But, during Modi-2 regime, when the Left demanded division, except CPI(M),CPI and DMK, all other parties voted in favour of the MV (Amendment) Bill, 2019 or abstained from voting. Thereby, the bill was passed with 208 in support and 13 against it.

It is pertinent to demand of Modi government to forthwith revoke the amendments in the MV Act and hold consultation with all the stakeholders in road transport sector including trade unions and the experts in the field of transport for improving road safety.

However, it is the experience of the people that the Modi government will not listen to them. The government’s prime task is to protect and safeguard profiteering of the corporates. Hence, it is inevitable to build a strong resistance movement at national level which is the only way out.