Road Safety Bill Watered Down, Will Have Little Effect, Say Activists

Fifteen people are killed every hour in road accidents across India, says Home Ministry data.

New Delhi: One year and five revisions later, the Road Safety Bill is yet to be placed before the cabinet. And that, perhaps, is a blessing in disguise, say activists and experts who pushed for a tough law to help cut down the number of road accidents in the country.  The bill is so now diluted that if passed in present form, it will have very little effect, they say.

Fifteen people are killed every hour in road accidents across India, says data from the Union Home Ministry. And to bring that figure down, the original draft of the Road Safety Bill -- which, when passed, will to replace the Motor Vehicles Act -- had some tough provisions.

For example, the original version of the bill did not place any cap on insurance claims in case of a death in accident. The focus was on the earning potential of the deceased and the number of dependents. But the latest version of the bill seeks to put a cap of Rs 15 lakh on this.  

"With steep fines, people would have thought twice or thrice before taking risks on the road. Now, with this provision diluted, it will weaken the any move for road safety," said Anubrata Choudhury, manager, Hubert-Ebner, an Indo-Austrian venture set up to address the subject of Road Safety in India.

In case of repeated accidents at a particular stretch, it even held responsible government officers who approved faulty road designs and contractors who built and failed to maintain roads. The quantum of punishment for them was a fine of Rs 10 lakh and a one-year jail term.

This has been now reduced to a fine of Rs 1 lakh, there is no jail term.

The new version has also dropped the provision to remove liquor shops along highways.
"The fact is that there are various lobbies at work," said Piyush Tewari, who heads SaveLife Foundation, which has been spearheading the campaign for a new comprehensive law.

Mr Choudhury agreed. "Initially when the law was proposed there were strict measures all those have been diluted because of the pressure from various lobbies," he said.

Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari admitted that there were "points of difference" over provisions of the bill, but reiterated that he would try and bring the bill in the next monsoon session of Parliament.

But that's of little consolation to Harpal Singh, whose 19-year-old son Jaspreet Singh was killed in a hit-and-run incident in 2010.

"I met the woman involved and her husband several times in court during the last three years, but not once did she apologise for killing my son. All I want is for her to spend at least a day in jail to understand my pain and to send a message to other rash drivers," Mr Singh said. 
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