NEW DELHI: Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari admitted in parliament yesterday that his department had struggled to reduce the number of road accidents in the past five years. Mr Gadkari was addressing the Lok Sabha on a bill to amend the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988. The proposed provisions include increased penalties for offences like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
According to data published by data.gov.in, nearly 4.7 lakh road accidents were recorded in 2017. The number has remained relatively constant over the past five years, with 2015 recording over five lakh accidents. The number of fatalities has risen – from 1.37 lakh in 2013 to 1.48 lakh in 2017.
“It is sad that India is on top in the number of deaths due to road accidents,” Mr Gadkari said while taking up the bill. He stressed on the fact that the original bill was more than 30 years old and needed significant changes to bring it up to date.
As a signatory to the 2015 Brasilia Declaration, a global conference on road safety sponsored by the World Health Organisation, India has committed itself to reducing the number of road accidents and fatalities by 50 per cent by 2020.
In his speech, Mr Gadkari highlighted inconsistencies in the way the act was currently implemented, pointing out that although new cars were required to be examined by the relevant Regional Transport Office before returning to the dealership to complete registration formalities, the reality was different.
“Aapko sabko pata hoga ki koi nayi gadi aaj kal rto office jaati nahin (All of you must know that these days no new car goes to the RTO office),” the minister said, as those around him chuckled.
He also made a strong pitch to fight corruption, pointing out that at least 30 per cent of driving licenses were fake, and called for greater technology to regulate traffic.
Among the provisions of the bill is an increase in fines for drunk driving – from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 10,000. The government also reserved the option to increase fines every year by up to 10 per cent.
Mr Gadkari also said he intended to implement the Tamil Nadu model to bring down the number of road accidents; in 2018, the South Indian state recorded a 10-year low in the number of fatalities.
The bill had been originally moved, by Mr Gadkari, in 2016. It had included suggestions from state governments and a parliamentary panel but lapsed after the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) failed to push it past the Rajya Sabha, where it lacked numbers.
The BJP still lacks an outright majority in the Upper House.
Opposition leaders criticised the bill and said it usurped the power of states to decide on road and highway infrastructure matters within their territories. They pointed to the bill granting the centre authority to set all RTO tax levels as an example; currently each state can set taxes at different levels.