RSTV: MOTOR VEHICLE ACT: LIFE V/S FINES
Several states have decided not to implement the new Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act citing steep penalties. Some states said it would overburden people while others said it would lead to higher levels of corruption. The Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari differed from what unconvinced states had to say. He said the high penalties under the amendment were undertaken after expansive deliberations and the key objective was to increase road discipline among citizens. India remains one of the top accident-prone nations in the world. As per Ministry of Road Transport and Highways data, 1.47 lakh people lost their lives due to road accidents in 2017; the scenario remains the same in 2019. Despite the data and the good intentions behind stricter penalties, states such as West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Jharkhand and Maharashtra denied imposing stricter fines to boost road discipline. Meanwhile, other states like Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, and Kerala decided to reduce the rates that have been stated in the amended act.
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 15, 2019 by the Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Mr. Nitin Gadkari. The Bill seeks to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 to provide for road safety. The Act provides for grant of licenses and permits related to motor vehicles, standards for motor vehicles, and penalties for violation of these provisions.
- Compensation for road accident victims: The central government will develop a scheme for cashless treatment of road accident victims during golden hour. The Bill defines golden hour as the time period of up to one hour following a traumatic injury, during which the likelihood of preventing death through prompt medical care is the highest. The central government may also make a scheme for providing interim relief to claimants seeking compensation under third party insurance. The Bill increases the minimum compensation for hit and run cases as follows: (i) in case of death, from Rs 25,000 to two lakh rupees, and (ii) in case of grievous injury, from Rs 12,500 to Rs 50,000.
- Compulsory insurance: The Bill requires the central government to constitute a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund, to provide compulsory insurance cover to all road users in India. It will be utilised for: (i) treatment of persons injured in road accidents as per the golden hour scheme, (ii) compensation to representatives of a person who died in a hit and run accident, (iii) compensation to a person grievously hurt in a hit and run accident, and (iv) compensation to any other persons as prescribed by the central government. This Fund will be credited through: (i) payment of a nature notified by the central government, (ii) a grant or loan made by the central government, (iii) balance of the Solatium Fund (existing fund under the Act to provide compensation for hit and run accidents), or (iv) any other source as prescribed the central government.
- Good samaritans: The Bill defines a good samaritan as a person who renders emergency medical or non-medical assistance to a victim at the scene of an accident. The assistance must have been (i) in good faith, (ii) voluntary, and (iii) without the expectation of any reward. Such a person will not be liable for any civil or criminal action for any injury to or death of an accident victim, caused due to their negligence in providing assistance to the victim.
- Recall of vehicles: The Bill allows the central government to order for recall of motor vehicles if a defect in the vehicle may cause damage to the environment, or the driver, or other road users. The manufacturer of the recalled vehicle will be required to: (i) reimburse the buyers for the full cost of the vehicle, or (ii) replace the defective vehicle with another vehicle with similar or better specifications.
- National Transportation Policy: The central government may develop a National Transportation Policy, in consultation with state governments. The Policy will: (i) establish a planning framework for road transport, (ii) develop a framework for grant of permits, and (iii) specify priorities for the transport system, among other things.
- Road Safety Board: The Bill provides for a National Road Safety Board, to be created by the central government through a notification. The Board will advise the central and state governments on all aspects of road safety and traffic management including: (i) standards of motor vehicles, (ii) registration and licensing of vehicles, (iii) standards for road safety, and (iv) promotion of new vehicle technology.
- Offences and penalties: The Bill increases penalties for several offences under the Act. For example, the maximum penalty for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs has been increased from Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000. If a vehicle manufacturer fails to comply with motor vehicle standards, the penalty will be a fine of up to Rs 100 crore, or imprisonment of up to one year, or both. If a contractor fails to comply with road design standards, the penalty will be a fine of up to one lakh rupees. The central government may increase fines mentioned under the Act every year by up to 10%.
- Taxi aggregators: The Bill defines aggregators as digital intermediaries or market places which can be used by passengers to connect with a driver for transportation purposes (taxi services). These aggregators will be issued licenses by state Further, they must comply with the Information Technology Act, 2000.
It is well known that India is one of the most accident-prone countries in the world, accounting for nearly 1,50,000 deaths, 10% of all motor vehicles-related fatalities worldwide. According to the 2018 report of the World Health Organization, the highest number of road accidents occur in India worldwide. Even China, the most populous country, is behind us in this regard. As per the report of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, 2017; there are about 5 lakh road accidents occurred in India every year in which around 1.5 lakh people are killed. There are around 1.49 lakh people died in 2018 in the road accidents with Uttar Pradesh registering the maximum spike in fatalities. So in order to prevent the menace of road accidents; the central government has amended the Motor Vehicle 1988 by the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019. Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 has been implemented throughout the country since September 1, 2019. Now the penalty has been increased 10 times on various violations.
- Unfortunately, the states who are topping the list of accidents are avoiding the implementation.
- “Chalta Hai” attitude prevails.
- With a Fund already existing to provide compensation for hit and run accidents, the purpose of the new Accident Fund is unclear.
- History of corruption may ripe up to the highest.
- State governments will issue licenses to taxi aggregators as per central government guidelines. Currently, state governments determine guidelines for plying of taxis. There could be cases where state taxi guidelines are at variance with the central guidelines on aggregators.
- While the penalties for contravening provisions of the proposed scheme on interim relief to accident victims are specified in the Bill, the offences that would warrant such penalties have not been specified. It may be argued that imposing penalties without knowing the nature of the offences is unreasonable.
- States also have concerns about their powers being curtailed in the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill.
- Power of compounding should be given to the police officers.
- Human intervention in deciding the crime/violation of rule should be minimized and proper technology should be put in place
- There is a need for an accountable and professional police force then only the record of traffic fatalities is likely to change.
- States must look at it as an opportunity to do something to reduce road accidents in their states.
- State governments must prepare for an early roll-out of administrative reforms prescribed in the amended law, such as
- Issuing learner’s licences online
- Recording address changes through an online application
- Electronic service delivery with set deadlines.
- Traffic police should have a app in which he can link a complaint.
- To eliminate corruption, all applications should be accepted by transport departments online, rather than merely computerising them.
- Campaign involving all stakeholders
- The law should be open for review.
- Protection from harassment for good Samaritans who help accident victims is something the amended law provides, and this needs to be in place.
- There is a need to incorporate the Safe System Approach in all aspects of road design, engineering and construction. This approach takes into account the possibility of human error and ensures that the surrounding environment and infrastructure are designed to save lives.
- Build up a campaign for safe roads for the fit vehicles on road and technology provides an opportunity to implement it.
“Alert today, Alive tomorrow”. As far as road safety is concerned, discipline is imperative. If implemented in right spirit, the law can change road habits of all by not only imposing stiffer penalties, but also trying to inculcate a sense of responsibility among the citizens. After the passing of this bill Road and transport Minister says that the Bill will provide an Efficient, Safe and Corruption Free Transport System in the Country.
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