The Centre has been facing criticism from states for its lack of inclusive approach towards them, as far as consultation on formulating policies is concerned. The direction by the PMO to roads ministry to adopt a more inclusive stand on new legislation replacing the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 could possibly nudge Centre to do the same in future engagements.
Under fire from states for being kept out of the consultative process on policies and legislation formulated by the Centre, the Prime Minister’s Office has stepped in with specific directions to the road transport ministry to seek a wider role for states in the ongoing consultations for a new legislation that will replace the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. In recent months, a number of states, including those ruled by the BJP, had been vocal against some of the amendments proposed to the Electricity Act, 2003, changes moved to the Factories Act and provisions in the Centre’s draft civil aviation policy.
“On the advice of Prime Minister’s Office, the latest version of The Road Transport and Safety Bill, 2015 has been sent to all the state governments and Union territory administrations for seeking their views. About 26 of them have furnished their comments till April. Reminders have been sent to the others,” an official involved in the exercise told The Indian Express. A Group of Ministers (GoM) has also been formed with the specific mandate to take on board the views of the states. The new bill proposes to put in place the National Road Safety and National Transport Authority, which would be tasked with addressing the engineering, enforcement, monitoring and emergency care standards for road safety.
The intervention by the PMO is being seen as an act of abundant caution by the Centre, considering the experience of a number of the government’s policies having come in for flak from states. In March last year, BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat were among those who opposed the amendments proposed to the Electricity Act, 2003. These two states, along with Tamil Nadu and Odisha, had also pointed specifically to the lack of consultation with state governments on the provisions of the Bill when it was being examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy.
In February 2015, the Centre’s move to amend the Factories Act, 1948 came in for criticism from the BJP government of Goa which, in a specific intervention before a Parliamentary panel, flagged its reservation against a proposal in the Factories Amendment Bill, 2014. This provision sought to remove the definition of “hazardous process” as contained in Section 2 of the principal Act, along with a list of 29 such processes and, instead, bring in a new sub-section 2(cc) that substituted the term “hazardous process” with a list of “hazardous substances”. Earlier, at the end of December 2014, several states, including Kerala, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, hit out at the proposal in the Centre’s draft civil aviation policy to develop only six international airports as travel hubs, citing significant international traffic — both in terms of aircraft and passenger movements — at their airports.
Incidentally, on May 22, the Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, in an interaction with reporters, blamed ‘vested interests’ for delaying the Road Safety Bill and termed its non-passage as one of his “biggest regrets”. The proposed law is expected to crackdown on traffic offenders and proposes steep penalties of up to Rs three lakh along with a minimum seven-year imprisonment for death in road accidents, besides hefty penalties for driving violations. It attempts to remove the practices that are adverse to road safety and efficient use of transport system and proposes to bring about a Multi Modal Coordination Authority to improve the efficiency in the transport sector. The ministry has pegged the annual loss to the economy due to accidents 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 injured.
The GoM on the road safety bill, which was formed last month, is learnt to have 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 ministerial panel 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 and other features before registration. The next meeting of the GoM is scheduled in Ladakh in June.
As soon as the recommendations are finalised, they will be sent to the Cabinet for approval, following which the bill would be introduced in Parliament.