As the debate over the much controversial Motor Vehicle (Amendments) Bill continues, Mansukh Laxmanbhai Mandaviya, Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways, introduced the bill in Rajya Sabha on July 23. Following the introduction of the bill, the upper house of the parliament witnessed heated discussion over the proposed amendments helping the corporates and diluting the powers of the state governments.
The Motor Vehicle (Amendments) Bill that had already been passed in Lok Sabha on April 10, 2017, was first introduced on August 9, 2016. Aimed at amending the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988, the Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha in April last year. Later, the bill was referred to a select panel and considering the recommendations of the panel, the bill was re-introduced in Rajya Sabha during the on-going monsoon session of the parliament.
In Rajya Sabha, a unity was built among the opposition parties: Congress, Left Parties, Trinamool Congress, DMK and AAP, when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) lawmaker, Elamaram Kareem moved two amendments. The amendments are on the rights of states and on the necessity of protecting the public transport system.
Contending the proposed amendments, Kareem said that although the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill was presented as a measure to increase road safety, there are no measures to prevent accidents other than provisions for a higher penalty for drivers and operators. As per the proposed bill, the entire blame is passed on to the drivers now. Quoting a study conducted by Professor Geetam Tiwari of IIT, New Delhi, Kareem said, “Only 10 percent of the accidents are happening because of the drivers’ fault. This is also due to the long duty hours, stress and strain on drivers, particularly, truck drivers. This fact was not considered while formulating this Bill” while there are so many other reasons including “over-congestion, growing number of vehicles beyond the capacity of roads,” Kareem pointed out the hidden agenda behind passing the bill in the name of road safety.
“The insistence of promoting a so-called competition amongst the transport service providers is leading to unhealthy competition on roads amongst the plying vehicles resulting in accidents,” Kareem said.
Congress leader B K Hari Prasad also raised similar concerns saying there were 92 clauses in the bill, out of which about 69 clauses were amended with no mention of road safety in most of them.
The Bill that ultimately paves way for private players gravely hits the state-owned Road Transport Corporations, who have a record of the lowest accident rates in the country. Instead of strengthening the state-owned transport system, the Centre is making it easier for the private owners. “Contrary to this, Sections 66, 66A, 66B, 67, 72, 74, 88A, 92, 94 and 96 were incorporated in the Bill. That is against the interest of the STUs. Furthermore, third party insurance is made mandatory for the STU buses thus burdening the State Transport Authorities. Practicing these Sections inwill lead to the closure of STUs,” Kareem further explained how the Bill cracks the public transport system.
“By the proposed amendments, all the State Transport Undertakings in each State would come under severe financial crisis. It will lead to the closure of State Transport Undertakings and huge retrenchments,” Kareem further said, questioning the Centre’s double standards in claiming that they are for generating new employment opportunities, On the contrary, if the Bill is passed, lakhs of workers under the public transport section would be retrenched.
In many states including Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra, Telangana, Assam, Rajasthan, the state-owned transport corporation workers have observed mass strikes and protests, raising their issues and concerns over the bill- that would further intensify the issues of the workers. The transport workers and unions have been opposing the amendments since the very introduction of the bill.
Also, the term “aggregator” has been inserted in the bill, which was not there in the M.V. Act Amendment, 1988, under section 93. The lawmaker again raised question over the relation between the aggregator and reducing road accidents.
Narrating how the aggregators destroy self-employed taxi drivers, he added in the Rajya Sabha: “They assured the drivers that whoever attaches their vehicles to the company will get an amount of Rs.1,50,000/- per month. But after three-four months, the drivers realised that they were getting a meagre amount and many of them left the Uber and Ola companies. It also badly affected lakhs and lakhs of auto drivers who are self-employed and run their own auto rickshaws.”