Draconian, needs retink

New MV Act

By Shivaji Sarkar

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019 is draconian. Worse, it is passed at a time when the automobile industry is in crisis and may be a severe deterrent to its progress. Thus, it calls for an immediate review. Like the Delhi rent control act that was passed over decades ago in a jiffy, it needs reconsideration. The new law needs to be sent back to the Standing Committee for detailed review. It should also follow a public debate.
Some provisions of the law, such as enhancement of compensation for road victims, protecting good Samaritans, fixing responsibility of contractors and road safety boards are in public interest. Some of these may of course have cumbersome process.
Another problem is with the insurance. As per law it is already a compulsion. The new provisions have not taken into account that insurance charges have been increased manifold. Higher the charges, higher would be the default. The rates must be affordable and the law must ensure it.
The new law also has peculiar provisions on penalising guardians of juveniles and even putting them in jail, cancellation of registration and suspension of driving licence. These are not only superfluous but also against the basic concept of empowering citizens. This apart, it would mostly be used as coercive extortive tactics by the law-enforcement agencies. Instead of solving the problem, it only adds to it.
Even today all over the country, millions of impounded vehicles are parked at every police station. These have become junk. Neither the owner is prepared to take these back nor can authorities dispose these off being case properties and thus these are tremendous wastage of wealth.
The law has not respected the concept that a car is a private property and the State cannot on any ground, except severe criminal culpability impound it. Moreover, impounding of vehicles only compounds the problem. Unnecessary provisions need to be scrapped.
Then levying fines for over-speeding have been increased from Rs 1000 to Rs 2000. This too is heavy. Most drivers are fined for driving 2 to 4 km above the 60 km limit. This should better be given up as in normal circumstances even a speed of 80 km is safe. More so, as it has not taken into account that modern vehicles zoom to 60 to 80 km even without pressing the accelerator.
Rash driving is a total different issue. It entails a fine of Rs 5000 and the question is whether it would halt such driving. Besides, it has been observed that these rash drivers often skip notice and are not are prosecuted, whereas a sober driver crossing the limit by a km is penalised!
Overall, the basic tenet of the law is not adhered to while drafting and enacting it. Mere inducing of fear among people by imposition of severe penalties is not a solution. It does not reduce incidence of violation but empowers the enforcers to coerce and extort. The law is apparently a creation of such people.
While enacting this kind of law one forgets the adage that more stringent a law more is the corruption. The powerful are not subjected to the law. They skip with their clout. Others skip it if they can grease the palms. But could any lawmaker tell the nation how many have the capacity to pay a fine of Rs 10,000 or more?
Why a fine of Rs 100 to 500 has to be increased ten-fold increase? The rationale has neither been explained nor have the social conditions been taken into account. Jumping a signal costs Rs 5000. The premise seems to be that a vehicle owner is the richest person and he has no respect for the basics and must be subjected to the highest level of extortion. The truth is no average citizen can do without a vehicle as public transport does not exist.
The country has been going through some improper narratives so far as vehicle owning is concerned. The lawmakers have not taken into account that in this country a large number of businesses are conducted from the vehicles at roadsides or weekly markets called peths.
It has also not taken into account the chaotic roads that many cities have, including Noida and Bengaluru. In Noida, driving safe through zig-zag roads is itself a problem and in Bengaluru escaping jams is impossible. Nobody wants to stop an ambulance, but can anyone do it in a jam-packed road? And for such traffic mess should a driver alone be penalized?
The entire effort seems to be revenue realisation for an administration that is crying hoarse of its increasing expenses and shortfall in revenue. The practice is to extort the maximum from the common man even to his ruin. This is a prescription for disaster.
The nation forgets that one improper environmental dictum ushered by the National Green Tribunals of junking ten-year-old working vehicles is playing havoc. The NGT’s quixotic order has put a brake on car sales, new and old. Many had alleged that the NGT had issued such orders to boost car sales.
It is also an example of NGT’s concern for the environment! It does not apparently know that manufacturing a new car is more pollutant than the one in use. The US and the West encourage the buying of one-year old cars and pushes resale as a new car pollutes more and allows these to ply for 40 years.
But here the resale industry is in jeopardy. Since resale is difficult, new car sales are affected. The reduced demand is affecting the automobile sector. Sales have come down drastically by over 30 per cent or more. The new MV Act would add to the problem.
Additionally, both transporters and bus operators do not find the law to be practical. Why should having an extra passenger in a taxi be penalized? The taxi aggregators have reason to worry. They would be levied fines of Rs 25,000 to Rs 100,000 – a sure prescription for closure. There are many such arbitrary levies.
The bill seems to create more problems than solving it. It was aimed at weeding out corruption and improving road safety, but is likely to do the contrary. The Yamuna-type expressways are badly designed where tyre bursts are common due to faulty grid-marks. The loops are also inappropriate. But instead of the road operator, drivers are being penalised.
Let the nation and the lawmakers rethink. The need is for a simpler law imposing more responsibility and least fear. Such laws should not be designed for revenue generation.—INFA