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Strike to Continue Till Law is Withdrawn': Drivers Angry Over new 'hit & run’ Norms

Drivers across the country are on the streets, striking and demonstrating. There were reports of clashes and arson in many places.

drivers strike

Drivers across the country are protesting against enhanced punishment under the new 'hit and run' accident norms.

Pic Credit: Twitter

New Delhi: Drivers were on the streets in many parts of the country on Tuesday, striking and protesting. There were also reports of clashes with the police and arson from many places.

The reason for the anger among drivers is enhanced punishment for 'hit and run' accidents under a new law. Some media platforms described the 'Hit and Run' rules as part of the 'Motor Vehicles Act', however, the Transport Ministry released a clarification on that.

The Ministry said some media platforms were linking the current truck drivers' strike to the Motor Vehicles Act, which was wrong. The ‘hit and run’ norms are related to the new law passed in Parliament during the Winter session, it said.

Recently the Indian Judicial Code law was passed by Parliament that has strict provisions regarding 'hit-and-run' incidents. Truck drivers are protesting against these provisions. Incidentally, the law has not been implemented yet.

Government backers said there was a great need to tighten the laws in the country because the number of deaths in road accidents was increasing every year.

What are the new ‘hit and run’ rules?

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) has been changed through the Indian Judicial Code, under which stringent provisions have been made regarding 'hit-and-run'. Especially in a situation when, after a serious accident, the driver absconds from the spot and does not inform the authorities.

Under the new norms, if a driver runs away from the accident site, leaving the injured person behind, then a fine of Rs 7 lakh can be imposed on the driver. Not only this, he/she can also be sentenced to 10 years in jail. However, if a driver stops and takes the injured person to hospital, the punishment may be reduced.

The protesting drivers, mainly truckers, are angry as they feel that this was an 'unfair' step that would affect 22 crore drivers across the country.

Meanwhile, due to the protest by truck drivers, the supply of essential commodities came to a virtual halt. Its direct impact was first seen in petrol pumps, which had long queues. Due to lack of supply, petrol pumps in many cities were reportedly running out of fuel.

As per All Drivers Kalyan Sangh, a drivers' union, till date the government has not considered their 29-point pending demands, which include setting up a Driver Commission, a National Driver Honour Day and a Driver Relief Fund.

"The government has not thought about the lives of drivers. No one has thought about the conditions in which drivers live, how they survive, what their future is, what their circumstances are. It is not drivers who are responsible for accidents, it is the wrong policies of the government and administration. The traffic rules are not right in India,” the union said.

It said, “Indian drivers will not get justice under this law. In the event of a tragic accident, the driver wants the life of the injured to be saved, he wants to help. But the public creates such an uproar that a driver has to run away to save his life. If he stops, the public will thrash him, many such incidents have happened.”

“Under the new rule, if a driver runs away to save his life, there could be jail for 10 years, which could force his family to die by suicide. How will a driver, getting a salary of Rs 5,000-10, be able to collect a penalty of lakhs of rupees in case of an accident? Most drivers live in rented houses.  Several of them own houses in slums. If those are sold to pay fines, then his family will be out on the streets. The government should amend these wrong rules and do justice to all drivers of India,” the union added.

The nationwide protest by drivers drew support from the drivers in Udaipur, Rajasthan where the Tourist and Travels Bus Driver Ekta Union (CITU) demonstrated at the District Collectorate against changing the civil law applicable on drivers in case of motor vehicle accidents, into a criminal law. They also submitted a memorandum to the ADM (City).

Addressing the protest, CITU District Convenor, Advocate Rajesh Singhvi, said, "The Central government has stirred a hornet’s nest. Just like the farmers' movement forced the Narendra Modi government to withdraw the three black agricultural laws. Similarly, this agitation by drivers across the country will force the government to withdraw this black law. This government's policy of making laws in a non-democratic manner is not a new thing. Instead of listening to grievances, Modiji wants to impose his ’mann ki baat’ on others.”

Union secretary Suresh Meghwal said, "To prevent crime or accidents, there is a need to make a right policy, not a strict law. Most accidents happen due to lack of proper maintenance of roads and technical deficiencies but governments do not pay attention to that,’

He said, "instead of law enforcement, the traffic department is rife with corruption. Roads remain broken, apart from this there is low awareness among people on traffic rules. There is a need to work on this."

Vinod Sisodia, secretary, Jan Seva Driver Party, said, "The drivers of trucks, buses, taxis, autos, tractors, dumpers etc. in the country risk their lives and contribute significantly to the development of the country by working hard for 12 to 18 hours a day. But, Union government does not consider their interest and convenience (when they make such rules).”

‘Will Protest Till ‘Black law’ is Withdrawn’

In Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad) of Uttar Pradesh, hundreds of tanker and truck drivers belonging to Indian Oil Corporation Limited demonstrated under the leadership of the Allahabad Drivers and Workers Union (Regd. Ministry of Labour).

Kamal Usri, national secretary of AICCTU and secretary of the union, which is leading the strike, said, "Hit and run cases are registered under IPC Sections 279 (negligent driving), 304A (causing death by negligence) and under Section 338 (putting life in danger). There is a provision of two years imprisonment under this. In special cases, Section 302 (murder) of IPC is also added. After the amendment, under Section 104 (2), if an accused flees the scene of a hit and run incident and does not inform the police or magistrate, he will have to face imprisonment up to 10 years and have to pay a hefty fine.”

He said, “A new rule has been also been put in place regarding driving licenses. From October 1, 2024, it will become mandatory for all vehicles to get the certificate made. Fitness certificate will be mandatory for all vehicles from October 1, 2024 by the Transport Ministry. The fact is that capitalists and corporates have taken over Parliament, that is why such anti-youth, anti-labour and anti-poor laws are being continuously made in Parliament.”

"Instead of ensuring minimum wages, PF, ESI for drivers, the Central government is making rules to send drivers to jail and pay fines. Today, PM Modi is clearly responsible for the problems people are facing in getting gas, vegetables and food items. Since this strike is organised on a national call, it will be continued or postponed as per the decision taken at the national level," the AICCTU leader said.

Meanwhile, the CPI(M) came out in support of the strike by drivers. In a press release, CPI(M) leader Rajvinder Chandi said that "Modi Raj is the rule of companies and not the rule of the people."

"The government has made a provision of 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of lakhs of rupees for insurance companies, because in accident cases, the insurance companies have to pay compensation to the petitioner as an indemnitor. The Modi government, under pressure from these companies, is passing this burden on to the weaker sections of the society-- the drivers. Such crimes are explained in detail in the old law. It is completely wrong to impose such heavy punishment and fine in the crime of an accident which is a sudden event," Chandi said.

(Translated from Hindi)

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