The Rajya Sabha passed the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019 on July 31. The bill was passed amidst a heated debate by the Opposition members in the House, and workers and transport unions across India. The Rajya Sabha has suggested three amendments to the Bill. The Bill will now be sent to the Lok Sabha again for scrutiny and then sent to the President of India for final ratification. While the move is being branded as a bid to provide safety, the unions are suggesting that it is oriented towards opening the transportation sector to private players. The unions and the Opposition are demanding that the Bill be repealed as it paves the way for privatisation.
The amended version of the Bill seeks to replace the Motor Vehicles Act 1988. The proposed amendments suggest a handover of the core road transport sector – including licensing, registration, maintenance and spare parts market – to the corporates. One such amendment – which was also flagged by motor workers in the 2015 version of the amendment bill – is the creation of vehicle testing and certification centres (automatic testing centres) that would provide both personal and commercial vehicles with periodic certifications. Commercial vehicles will need to be certified every 3 years. However, given that the states lack the necessary infrastructure for this, it would likely lead to involvement of private players, whose main motive is profit.
Additionally, App-based and call taxi drivers fear that the bill, by defining aggregators as intermediaries rather than employers, allows these companies to extricate themselves from responsibilities to their drivers even while controlling the market and pricing. Auto spare parts traders are also likely to be adversely affected as they have been directed to only use original company parts that are expensive. Small-scale mechanics are in a similar predicament with the Bill declaring that only authorised service centres can engage in repairs for the vehicles. Such elements in the Bill are being seen as an excuse to enable big investors to capture the transport operations as well as the product market. There is also fear among the state transport corporation workers that the amendments will increase pressure towards privatisation of the public transport sector. The amendments will also hit small motor driving institutes, as it will increase the cost of entry and functioning for smaller driving institutes, pushing them out of business.
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In addition to this, amended bill also increases the traffic fines significantly. For example, the fine for not wearing a helmet will go up from ₹ 100 currently to ₹ 1,000. The fine for talking on mobile phone and driving will be raised to ₹ 5,000 from the current ₹ 500. And the fine for drinking and driving has been increased from ₹ 2,000 to ₹ 10,000. There are other additions in terms of violations as well, such as not giving way to emergency services like ambulance or fire engines will attract a fine of ₹ 10,000.
Speaking to NewsClick, K. K. Divakaran, general secretary of All India Road Transport Workers Federation and national secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, said, “The Bill is anti-worker and is oriented towards giving more space for the corporate section to come in and transferring the government’s power to private hands. The move is being packaged as a bid to provide safety. But the workers are unable to see how the proposed changes will ensure safety on the streets or reduce accidents as is being suggested by the government. The fines have increased from Rs. 250 to about Rs. 1000 now which will adversely affect the working classes. All India Road Transport Workers’ Federation along with many state unions is currently planning to hold mass agitations across India.”
Previously, after facing widespread protests, the bill had lapsed in the Lok Sabha and was referred to a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha for consideration. The Opposition parties had raised objections and demanded more time to study the Bill terming it “anti-federal”, as it compromises the power of the state governments while increasing the power of the Centre in regulating the transport sector. The unions have been opposing the bill since it was proposed in 2014. Earlier, on October 13, 2017, more than 2,000 motor transport workers of Tamil Nadu had gathered in Chennai to stage a massive protest and day-long strike against the Bill. In 2015 as well, workers’ unions across the country had protested against the earlier version of the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill.
Also read: Motor Workers Protest, Say Amendment Bill Will Hand Over Transport Sector to Corporates