The Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill, 2019 was passed in the Lok Sabha by a voice vote on Tuesday paving the way for it to be considered and passed in the Rajya Sabha.
The Bill, in its 2017 version, had already been approved in the Lower House, but could not get past the Rajya Sabha, proposes higher penalties for traffic violations; protecting people who help accident victims, and improving provision of services for vehicle buyers, among others.
Several Members of Parliament (MPs) welcomed the stiffer penalties and other steps taken towards improving safety, but had concerns regarding a clause that proposes penalising drivers that stop an ambulance by making them cough up ₹10,000.
Trinamool Congress’ Saugata Roy wondered what would drivers do in case they were stuck in a traffic jam. Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari responded by saying that the penalties will apply only if it is proved that the driver had intentionally not given way to the ambulance, which will have a camera fitted in it.
MPs also noted that State governments feared losing their power and revenue they earn from transport-related services including registration of vehicles or various services in the Regional Transport Office (RTO); or the fees earned from providing permits between different States.
While Gadkari maintained that States have the choice of not implementing the Bill, some MPs noted that this is not “written in the Bill”.
NK Premachandran of Revolutionary Socialist Party also tried introducing amendments on certain points to include discussion between the Centre and States or subject to States accepting, which were not included by the Lok Sabha.
MPs also had queries on whether the Centre or State will bear the cost of electronic monitoring of roads and highways to improve safety; and improving the road design through engineering design corrections. Gadkari said that road design and engineering faults for locations in States, district and municipal roads will be improved by spending ₹14,000 crore. The Road Ministry is in talks with the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank for a loan. Gadkari added that Tamil Nadu’s experience in bringing down the number of accidents, will be followed in other States.
While welcoming faster payment of compensation amount — of ₹5 lakh in death cases or ₹2.5 lakh grievous injury cases — to accident victims in case relatives of victims decide to give up their rights for claiming higher compensation from insurers, some MPs maintained that the rights of accident victims to move to Motor Accident Claims Tribunals (MACT) should continue, given that several MACTs have ruled for compensating victims for much higher amount.
On opening up last mile connectivity, MPs had concerns regarding the Centre taking away the States’ right to provide buses in the rural and hilly areas. State governments who provide such services through road transport undertakings note that this will encourage privatisation of bus services, eventually leading to a drop in provision of such services in remote and rural locations.
Many also questioned the effectiveness of making a Road Safety Board with only advisory powers, instead of making it responsible for deciding road building standards.