Tuesday, May 18, 2021

MVA 2019

The NDA-government does not appear to be serious in mitigating the sufferings of the people over the harsh penalties that came into effect on September 1, 2019 under the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019. The new rules have, unfortunately, produced a backlash with several state governments opting not to implement the new law and even reject the new provisions in the interest of the people. In the first instance, Gujarat has announced a substantial reduction in the fines, West Bengal has refused to adopt the higher penalties, Karnataka and Kerala are studying the prospects to make the provisions less stringent, and others are proceeding with caution. Motorists have reacted with outrage over the imposition of fines by the police, obviously upset at state governments pursuing enforcement without upgrading road infrastructure and making administrative arrangements for issue of transport documents. Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has reiterated that it is left to the states to choose the quantum of fines, since it is their responsibility to bring about deterrence and protect the lives of citizens. Nitin Gadkari’s argument is valid, and the intent behind amending the Motor Vehicles Act cannot be faulted. After all, India has some of the deadliest roads in the world, and 1,47,913 people died in road accidents only during 2017. The question that has arisen is whether enhanced fines can radically change this record when other determinants, beginning with administrative reform, remain untouched. Apart from this, it is also to be seen whether the successive government have been able to upgrade the infrastructure to suit the needs of the people in different states of the country. The bad road conditions and no connectivity to remote and far-flung areas have been taking a heavy on the life and property of the people. The commuter services in hilly areas have been almost negligible leading to higher accident rate for no fault of the people. The centre as well as the state governments have not paid any attention to the services that should have been made available to the common masses for which they have been paying a major part of their earnings as taxes. This issue has been flagged at many of the meetings of the central government for reduction in the number of accidents in the remote areas but no attention has been paid by the concerned authorities. The main reform lies in Section 198(A) of the amended law, which requires any designated authority, contractor, consultant or concessionaire responsible for design or construction or maintenance of the safety standards of the road to meet those laid down by the Central government. This provision, which prescribes a penalty for a violation leading to death or disability, can be enforced through litigation by road users in all states. Since the standards are laid down, compliance should be ensured without waiting for a road accident to prove it. Until infrastructure meets legal requirements, fines and enforcement action are naturally liable to be challenged in courts; the condition of roads, traffic signals, signage and cautionary markings which affect motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, would all fall within its ambit. State governments also cannot escape responsibility for failing to reform their Regional Transport Authorities, since these offices are generally steeped in corruption. The transport ministry could well have made electronic delivery of RTO services mandatory, something that a lapsed UPA-era Bill promised. It should act on this now. Ultimately, ending the culture of impunity that allows government vehicles and VIPs to ignore road rules will encourage the average citizen to follow them. Nitin Gadkari should lose no time in forming the National Road Safety Board to recommend important changes to infrastructure and to enable professional accident investigation.