Rajya Sabha passes bill to overhaul transport sector

New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday cleared the bill to amend 30-year old motor vehicle law to improve road safety, raise penalties for traffic violations, curb RTO (Regional Transport Office) corruption and other measures to transform the transport sector.

Though the Lok Sabha has already passed The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019, last week, it will head back to the lower house as the government had subsequently amended two provisions since then.

In a last-minute twist on Wednesday, Elamaram Kareem of the CPI-M insisted on a division. The bill got 108 votes in favour and 13 against it.

In his reply to members after discussion on the bill, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari dispelled apprehension raised by some of the members that the proposed law encroaches upon state powers and encouraged the corporate sector to take over the transport sector.

He assured the members that Centre had no intention, directly or indirectly, to encroach upon the powers of states.

Attributing most road accidents to faulty engineering, the Minister said that for the first time provision of fines for erring contractors has been made. Further, as many as 786 black spots had been identified and being fixed.

The Bill also provides for regulation of cab aggregators and also issues related to third-party insurance. It has proposed a digitised licensing system to centralise vehicle registration data. The bill also provides for recall of defective vehicle parts by auto companies and insurance cover to all road users in India for certain types of accidents.

The draft legislation also seeks to amend the existing law to impose penalty on contractors and concessionaires for faulty road design, construction and maintenance.

Introducing the bill, Gadkari said that nearly 5 lakh accidents take place on Indian roads every year causing death of 1.5 lakh people. Of the total accidents, 40 per cent happen on the national highways (NHs).

Initiating the debate, Congress member B.K. Hariprasad said that the bill was defective and was not for the road safety but to help corporates.

Naresh Gujral of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) said that increased penalty for rash driving and drunken driving will bring some order on the roads. He suggested to make it mandatory at least for heavy vehicles to provide an anti-sleep alarm.

Kareem, of the CPI-M, opposed the bill saying the government was handing over the entire road transport sector to corporates.

“The government talks about co-operative federalism but it is slowly encroaching over the powers of the states,” he added.

Rashtriya Janta Dal’s Manoj Jha agreed with Kareem that the bill encroached on state powers.

“This bill in more ways than one dishonours the very idea of federalism,” Jha said.

The bill to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 was first presented in Lok Sabha in 2016. It was then sent to a Parliamentary Standing Committee which vetted it and gave certain recommendations. Giving its report in 2017, the Committee agreed to most of the provisions of the bill. Subsequently, it was tabled in the Lok Sabha and cleared on April 10, 2017. The bill was then introduced in the Rajya Sabha and referred to a Select Committee.

The bill, however, did not get clearance from the Rajya Sabha and lapsed with the dissolution of 16th Lok Sabha. The bill was introduced again in the Lok Sabha and passed on July 23 after discussion.