Road safety


The Indian laws governing motor vehicles and transport are not only obsolete but also lack provisions required for fast motorization and efficient management of the public transport system. It has been felt for a long time that the gaps in the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 need to be addressed to improve road safety, ensure disciplined use of vehicles and expand public transport in the country. But unfortunately, these needs have been ignored by the successive governments at the centre and states for the last three decades. Now the amendments passed by the Centre last year in Lok Sabha seeking to incorporate new provisions for the purpose of efficiency has now run into opposition in the Rajya Sabha due to perceived shift of power from the states to the centre. The updated bill was recently presented in front of the Union Cabinet on June 24, 2019, and will now head to the Parliament to be debated and approved. At present the issue does not concern the legislative competence because of the fact that the subject is in the Concurrent List and Parliament can make a law defining powers available to the states. It is mainly due to the reason that some of the states are concerned about new provisions which empower the centre to formulate a national transport policy through a process or consultation and not concurrence. Under the new draft amendments, the changes on the MVA will enable the central government to formulate schemes for the national, multi-nodal and inter-state movement of goods and passengers, for rural mobility and even last mile connectivity. This will take away the powers of the state governments, which have been making changes as per the requirements suiting their local conditions as well as the needs of their local populations in the hinterland. Moreover, it also takes away the powers of the states so far as providing rural connectivity as a social service instead of profitable routes for operation of such services. This will put the people living in rural and far flung areas to disadvantage because the private operators refuse to cater to their needs because of low profit or losses due to scarcely populated regions spread across the Himalayan belt and tribal areas of central Indian states. In the event of both the centre and states doing nothing, however, is no longer an option. The passenger transport sector operating within cities and providing inter-city services has grown amorphously, with vested interests exploiting the lack of transparency and regulatory bottlenecks. With a transparent system, professional new entrants can enter the sector. As things stand, state-run services have not kept pace with the changing times. Major investments made in the urban metro rail systems are yielding poor results in the absence of last-mile connectivity services. The states have felt that this investment in the urban areas is being done at the cost of the rural areas which continue to host almost two-thirds of the Indian population. At this stage, when the road network has been improved and touted as the new development mantra of the BJP-government, the connectivity in the rural areas has been abysmally low. The new roads and transport connectivity in major urban centres by-passing smaller towns has sadly created a new urban and rural divide among the people across the country. So far transport sector is concerned, creating an equitable regulatory framework for the orderly growth of services is critical. This could be achieved through changes to the MVA that set benchmarks for the states. Enabling well-run bus services to operate across states with suitable permit charges is an imperative to meet the needs of a growing economy. Regulatory changes introduced in Europe over the past few years for bus and railway services have encouraged competition, reduced fares and increased services operating across European Union member-states providing better services to the people. Other aspects of the proposed amendments deal with road safety. These, however, are likely to achieve little without strong enforcement by the states across the country. The effort to curb institutionalised corruption at Regional Transport Offices by making it possible for dealers to directly register new vehicles, and enabling online applications for driving licences is welcome step for the centre but not the states. Care is needed to see that other measures, such as sharply enhancing fines for traffic violations, do not only result in greater harassment. It is the certainty of enforcement, zero tolerance and escalating penalties that will really work in different states.