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Bumpy Ride Ahead

Bumpy Ride Ahead

The Road Transport and Safety Bill 2014 is a much-needed initiative that still needs the implementation clarity to make it a success.

In order to tackle the steadfast ascent in the number of road accidents, and the inefficiency in the road transport system, the Union government, on September 13, 2014, put forth a draft Road Transport and Safety Bill, 2014 (the ¨Bill¨) to replace the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The Bill proposes to ¨provide a scientifically planned and evolving framework for the safety of all road users in India, including vulnerable road users, and for enabling the seamless development of a secure, efficient, cost-effective, sustainable, and inclusive transport system for the movement of passenger and freight in the country¨.

On comparison with the existing road safety legislative framework, the Bill appears to have introduced several new concepts in a bid to streamline the existing framework, e.g., in order to ensure better road user safety, the Bill proposes the unified driver licensing system, automated driver licensing test, national highway traffic regulation & protection force, child restraints, etc. Road worthiness tests for all cars and two-wheelers every five years, and unified vehicle registration system (registration being linked with insurance, vehicle offences, and fitness) has been proposed to enhance vehicular efficiency and safety. Insurance guidelines and procedures for accident investigation have also been introduced.

The draft Bill has been prepared based on the practices of the USA, Canada, Singapore, Japan, Germany and the UK. Certain provisions seem to have been taken exactly as they were in those foreign legislations and incorporated in the Bill. Significant parts of the Bill have similarities with provisions in the Road Transport Act (UK). On perusal of the provisions of the Bill, it is apparent that the Bill was a rushed piece of legislation and though the objective of the Bill is quite clear, there are several creases that need to be ironed out.

Brief Overview

Institutional Framework
The Bill envisages an institutional framework consisting of the Vehicle Regulation and Road Authority of India (the ¨National Authority¨), the State Safety Authority (the ¨State Authority¨) and the National Road Transport and Multimodal Co-ordination Authority. With the establishment of the abovementioned autonomous bodies, the regulatory powers of the Central as well as the State government shall depreciate substantially. Policy decisions for road transport and safety would come under the purview of the National Authority and the National Authority would also act as an economic regulator. This entails that regulatory powers of States under the existing legislation have been entrusted upon these statutory bodies. According to V Senthilbalaji, Tamil Nadu minister for Transport, ¨In such a situation, the State legislature cannot implement its well-planned welfare schemes without the prior approval of the National Authority. Hence, this Bill seriously encroaches upon legislating competence of the States.¨

Another concern for State governments is that in accordance with the Bill, the Central government is to frame and notify the principles of taxes to be levied on motor vehicles, and transport vehicles. All fees, fines, compounding fee, motor vehicle tax will be collected, distributed, and reconciled by the National Authority and some amount will be apportioned to the States. Since Motor Vehicles Tax is a major revenue source for the State exchequer, these provisions will adversely affect the State revenue.

Penalty Provisions
As a deterrent, the Bill proposes harsh fines and punishments. Though theoretically this seems to be a good decision, in practice it might not yield the desired results. On occurrence of an offence, ¨Penalty Points¨ will be awarded to the offender. Accumulation of specific number of Penalty Points would result in suspension of driving licence and/or cancellation of driving licence. The Penalty Points scheme is very systematic; however, it still requires procedural clarity.

Penalty provisions also lack clarity e.g., the Bill is unclear about who will collect the fine from traffic offenders and how the collected fine is to be utilised.

Unified And Automated Systems
Unified driver licensing system and unified registration system proposed under the Bill will make the framework faster, more efficient, and cost-effective. Further, duplication of permits can be avoided with a single-window permit system. Automated testing systems will ensure honest evaluation of ability and would help in reduction of corruption in the driver testing process. Electronic weighing bridges would be installed at toll booths across national highways in India to prevent overloading of trucks. Human interference and corruption can be reduced as these weighbridges would be connected through satellite computers to generate data.

Private Participation
The Bill encourages participation of the private sector for improvement of road transport systems. One of the functions and objectives of the National Authority, the State Authority, and the National Road Transport and Multimodal Co-ordination Authority is to encourage private and public-private participation for various initiatives under the Bill.

Various provisions of the Bill provide for opportunities for the private sector to participate and contribute. The Bill permits private participation in the automated driver licensing system. Subsequently, the automated driver licensing systems can have increased capacity and better functioning. Further, the Bill provides for private sector participation in establishing and maintaining fitness certification centres, creation of a motor accident fund for immediate relief to accident victims, electronic detection & centralised offences information to identify repeat-offenders.

According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, ten lakh jobs will be created with increase in investment in the sector. Thus the Bill opens up new avenues for private sector investors.

Impact On Infrastructure Sector
The Bill makes a commendable effort to include improvement of efficiency of infrastructural players to enhance road safety.

1) In accordance with the Bill, the National Authority would issue guidelines for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of roads to ensure safety of road users. Any person or principal authority or contractor responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of the safety standards of the road is required to follow the design, construction, operation and maintenance standards determined by the National Authority from time to time to the extent reasonably possible. In the event such an aforementioned responsible person fails to follow the standards, he shall be punishable in accordance with the Schedule III of the Bill.

This provision of the Bill would have to be reflected in the EPC contract in order to assure that the risk is appropriately allocated to the contractor and the contractor is obligated to adhere to the standards set by the National Authority. It cannot be said with certainty as of now, but the added obligation and risk on part of the contractor would lead to increase in the contract price.

2) The Bill also contemplates the establishment of Integrated Freight Transport Hubs and Intermodal Transport Facilities. The National Authority would stipulate the procedures for registration, obtaining construction completion certificate and operation commencement certificates of Integrated Freight Transport Hubs and Intermodal Transport Facilities.

Therefore, the contract for construction, operation and maintenance for the Integrated Freight Transport Hubs and Intermodal Transport Facilities would lay down the procedures stipulated by the National Authority and the contractors would be obligated to follow the procedures in order to obtain the completion certificate and/or the operation commencement certificate.

Further, the operators are required to run the Integrated Freight Transport Hubs and Intermodal Transport Facilities as per the approved license and cannot change the use and service functions of these without prior permission of the National Transport Authority.

3) The State Authority to advise persons and bodies to construct, maintain or vary transit improvement infrastructure and any other transport infrastructure for its continued improvement, including roads, road-related infrastructure, roadsides and other transport assets. Thus, the interference of the State Authority in construction projects might increase.

Revising The Reform
The primary issue with the Bill is that it does not explicitly provide for any structure for actual implementation of the provisions of the Bill and/or how the implementation will be monitored. There is no lucidity on monitoring and compliance strategies. Therefore, procedural aspects need to be laid down clearly in the Bill.

Further, the Bill does not take urban design solutions into consideration. To illustrate, the Bill lays down provisions for infrastructure facilities for walking, cycling, and public transport. However, no design specifications have been provided.

The article has been authored by Aakanksha Joshi and Ashlesha Galgale.

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