January 07, 2024

CITU Supports Road Transport Workers Strike against Draconian Legislation

THE Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) extends support to the spontaneous and widespread protests by the road transport sector across the country. These protests have been triggered by the hasty enactment of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, which replaces the Indian Penal Code. Of particular concern are the impractical, unjust, and unconstitutional provisions within this legislation, granting excessive powers to the executive authorities to impose severe penalties and punitive actions related to road transport accidents.

In a statement released on January 3, CITU emphasized that the enactment of three new penal legislations – Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), and Bhartiya Sakshya Sanhita – as replacements for the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, and Indian Evidence Act, was carried out without due parliamentary discussion. The government at the centre, in an authoritarian manner, bypassed any deliberation in parliament and disregarded the consensus recommendations of the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs. The authoritarian approach of the government is evident, as they would not allow any engagement in meaningful debates and discussions in parliament, let alone conduct public consultations with stakeholders, especially the unions representing road transport workers.

In the guise of decolonising the criminal justice system, the aforementioned legislations have been hastily enacted. Any genuine process of decolonisation should involve empowering the people, shifting from the colonial era's subjugation of people to giving them a more participatory role. However, the central government, despite its claims to the contrary, has taken actions contrary to this principle. One prominent claim of their decolonisation efforts is the elimination of Section 124(a) of the IPC, commonly known as the sedition law. Upon closer examination of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), it becomes apparent that the same oppressive content and intent persist in Section 150 of the BNS. Numerous other instances within these legislations exemplify such deceptive claims.

Moreover, these legislations have expanded the powers of the police and the executive arbitrarily and abnormally. A glaring example is the amendment of IPC provisions related to road accidents and other rash and negligent acts or driving. The proposed jail term of 10 years and/or a fine for individuals involved in rash driving, who flee the scene (often out of fear), and neglect to report the incident to the police, is one such arbitrary and abnormal extension of executive authority.

Section 104(2) of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) stipulates, "Whoever causes the death of any person by engaging in a rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide and subsequently escapes from the scene of the incident or fails to promptly report the incident to a police officer or magistrate, shall be subject to imprisonment of either description for a term that may extend up to ten years, and shall also be liable to a fine." Presently, instances of hit-and-run are registered under sections 279 (involving rash or reckless driving), 304A (causing death by negligence), and 338 (endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The penalty for causing death due to rash and negligent driving under Section 304A is a two-year imprisonment term.

It is pertinent to recollect that after its initial presentation in the Lok Sabha on August 11, 2023, the proposed legislation was referred to the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs. The committee recommended a reconsideration of Section 104(2). As per paragraph 3.20.5 of the committee's recommendations, it stated, "The Committee is of the view that clause 104(2) may be against Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India, which asserts, 'No person accused of an offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.' However, the Supreme Court has widened the scope of this immunity by interpreting the word ‘witness’ to include oral as well as documentary evidence so that no person can be compelled to be a witness to support a prosecution against himself. Hence, further contemplation is required, if the government still seeks to retain this new provision”.

Considering the government's scant respect for parliamentary democracy, it is unlikely that they will heed such collective wisdom. Consequently, they exhibited resistance and maintained the ten-year imprisonment term, introducing the new provision 104(2) with the inclusion of the term 'driving' in the context of rash and negligent acts, going against the aforementioned article of the constitutional and the recommendations of the parliamentary standing committee.

Against the backdrop of these developments, motor workers across the country are in a struggle since the past three days, strongly opposing the implementation of these draconian provisions. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) unequivocally expresses its wholehearted support to the strike actions undertaken by road transport workers.

Sensing the surging support for the strike from the vehicle-driving public and workers, the government has given assurance not to enforce the punitive provision, but it has not uttered any word for revising the provision. CITU demands that Section 104(2) must be entirely removed from the penal statute. It demands the government to call for meaningful consultations with all stakeholders, especially the trade unions representing the road transport sector, to formulate future corrective measures on these critical issues.


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