On September 13, the government released the draft Road Transport and Safety Bill 2014, seeking public feedback. It came with accompanying documents that explain the draft Bill. However, certain groups and individuals are critical of it.
The draft Bill is based on the foundation provided by the Sundar Committee, which submitted its report in 2011. It incorporates national and international best practices crafted to suit India’s road scenario. It goes beyond the panel’s recommendations by incorporating comprehensive protection for children while commuting and addresses the often ignored aspect of faulty road design and engineering as a cause of accidents. Both issues were missing in the report submitted by the Sundar Committee.
While the Bill may have various loopholes, as any first draft of far-reaching law would, its most important achievement lies in the fact that it provides a broad framework to protect the ‘other half’ ie 50% of road users who do not choose, or cannot travel by motorised transport. Pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorised road users can get protection and regulation under this Bill.
Some sections of the public are apprehensive of the increased fines and penalties, saying they will lead to more police harassment. While the Bill does raise fines and prescribes imprisonment for severe offences, it also proposes to create better mechanisms like electronic and contact-free enforcement.
It is pointless to compare our fines and enforcement practices to those of developed nations since they are way ahead of India in ensuring road safety. However, we must look at countries like Brazil, Mexico and Argentina that have recorded reduced accident numbers due to higher fines and strict enforcement, among other measures. Even road transport experts in China have reported recently that “harsher penalties may force more drivers to follow traffic regulations”.
“Compared to other countries, the punishments for traffic violations in China were originally less severe, which, therefore, failed to do enough to deter potential offenders”. It was in this backdrop that China introduced its ‘strictest’ traffic rules in 2013. This Bill takes various steps in that direction including setting up a comprehensive penalty system and the establishment of a highway police force.
Another significant step is the establishment of empowered and dedicated agencies to manage safety, vehicle regulation and public transport. Principal among these is the Motor Vehicle Regulation and Road Safety Authority, which will ensure a 360 degree, independent management of road safety and vehicle regulation.
Recent reports suggest that industry is opposed to a stricter regulation of vehicles including aspects such as mandatory vehicle recalls in the case of manufacturing defects. The claim that manufacturers have the discretion to recall vehicles seems absurd. Safety, when it involves large sections of the public, needs to be regulated by an independent authority.
Instead of derailing the Bill, attempts should be made to strengthen it and save lives. The government has come halfway by making the draft of the Bill public and seeking public opinion. It is time for the public, academics and experts to do their bit.
GK Pillai is former Union home secretary and
Piyush Tewari is the founder, SaveLIFE Foundation,
a road safety advocacy group
The views expressed by the authors are personal