Blaming ‘vested interests’ for delaying the Road Safety Bill, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari on Sunday said its non-passage remains his “biggest regret” as more people are getting killed every year in road accidents than in “wars, terror attacks or epidemics”.
Gadkari, known to speak his mind, did not name the “vested interests” who are trying to scuttle the new law but said these are the people who are “opposed to transparency and computerisation in the highways sector”.
“In India, 30 per cent of the driving licenses are bogus… There has been large-scale corruption in RTOs…Misconception was generated by those who will get affected due to transparency in the new legislation,” the Minister told reporters in an interview in the capital.
The proposed law seeks to come down heavily on traffic offenders and proposes steep penalties of up to Rs three lakh along with a minimum 7-year imprisonment for death in road accidents, besides hefty fines for driving violations. It would also overhaul the road transport and highways sector bringing in more transparency and curbing malpractices, Gadkari said while adding that the proposed legislation incorporates the best global practises and will curb road accidents.
He pegged the annual loss to the economy due to accidents in India at close to 3 per cent of the GDP. India sees nearly five lakh road accidents a year in which 1.5 lakh people die and another 3 lakh get crippled.
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“Ever since I have taken charge of the sector, the biggest regret that keeps me haunting is that despite best of our best intentions, Road Safety Bill is stuck…I feel pained and helpless to see 1.5 lakh Indians, mostly youth, dying on roads,” Gadkari said. “Not so many people die in war or terror attack or naxalite killing…not even in epidemics… It gives me sleepless nights and I want to cut accidents by at least 50 per cent as early as possible,” the Minister said.
Gadkari, who said his dream is to overhaul India’s infrastructure to the level of the best in the world, said the subject is “close to his heart” but despite “devoting day and night” to correct the flaws, he has not been able to get the crucial bill governing road sector see light of the day.
Solely holding responsible the “vested interests opposed to transparency and computerisation” in highways sector for delay in the Bill, the Minister said a Group of Ministers (GoM) is working on it and has already taken on board most of the states. Hopeful that the Bill would get passed in the next Parliament session, Gadkari said a policy has been prepared in the meantime to mandate setting aside one per cent of the total project cost of any highway project for road safety issues while government will spend at least Rs 5,000 crore.
The funds will be spent on fixing black-spots or accident-prone areas, as also for installing cameras and lights, among other such safeguards. In its interim report, the GoM has also suggested three years of imprisonment and hefty penalties for owner of the vehicles in cases where drivers are juveniles.
The GoM, formed last month and headed by Rajasthan Transport Minister Yunus Khan, has unanimously agreed on framing strict penalties for offences like driving by minors, crossing speed-limits, drunk driving, using mobiles while driving and jumping traffic lights. Besides, a steep hike is being proposed in fines in case of a law-enforcing official is found violating the traffic norms.
The GoM has also agreed on a proposal entailing spot registration of vehicles at dealers point besides simplification of forms. It has also recommended mandatorily fitting all public vehicles with GPS, camera, broadband and other such features before registration. Gadkari said the next meeting of the GoM is scheduled in Laddakh next month. Once the recommendations are finalised, they will be sent to the Cabinet for approval and subsequently be introduced in Parliament for passage, he added.
To save lives, unique ambulances are being designed which will be equipped with man and machinery to take out trapped road accident victims from vehicles, he said, while adding many lives are lost due to absence of appropriate devices to cut through the metal bodies of vehicles with people inside.
Also, instructions are being issued to make officials framing faulty project reports accused in cases of road accidents as wrong road engineering has also been found at times to have caused accidents and drivers alone cannot be held responsible for it. Earlier this month, a parliamentary panel also called for a new legislation on road safety in tune with the country’s changing needs and asked the government to ensure its enactment without any further delay.
It said any inordinate delay can be avoided with proper planning and meticulous compliance with the due procedures which are apparently found wanting in this case.