December 1, 2017
Even as the Union Government seeks to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, the Supreme Court has issued guidelines in order to bring down the fatal road accidents.
Justices M.B.Lokur and Deepak Gupta of a division bench issued the guidelines based on a Public Interest Litigation filed by Dr. S.Rajasekaran, Chairman and Head of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery of Ganga Hospital in Coimbatore.
President of the Indian Orthopaedic Association, Dr.Rajasekaran prayed for enforcement of road safety norms and appropriate treatment of accident victims. Being a witness to the acute loss of life and limbs caused by road accidents in the capacity of the head of orthopaedic surgery at Ganga Hospital, he suggested that practical measures be taken in a time-bound and expeditious manner to give effect to legislations, reports and recommendations for ensuring that loss of lives due to road accidents is minimised.
He submitted that 90 per cent of deaths due to road accidents is the result of a lack of strict enforcement of safety rules on roads and punishment for those who do not obey rules. Citing the data published by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), he said over half of the victims are in the economically active age group of 25-65 years.
The court pointed out that the number of deaths due to road accidents in the country is said to be over one lakh a year, which translates to about one death every 3 minutes and the compensation awarded for deaths and motor accidents claims runs into hundreds of crores of rupees.
It issued directions, putting down 25 guidelines with regard to framing road safety policy, forming state road safety council and district committee, establishing lead agency, constituting road safety fund and drafting road safety action plan. It has also highlighted the need for engineering improvement, traffic calm measures, road safety audits, engineering design of new roads, drivers’ training, land driving, road safety equipment, advisories regarding alcohol and road safety, road safety education, speed governors, emergency medical care, permanent road safety cell, data collection, fitment of GPS devices in public service vehicles and crash test among others.
The court expressed the hope that the directions would help save thousands of lives in road accidents and crores of rupees in compensation payable by the insurance companies provided they are sincerely complied with.
SC lauds Dr.Rajasekaran
Hailing Dr.Rajasekaran as a public spirited citizen, the SC said the writ petition filed by him was taken up as a PIL as he has “no personal interest in the matter.” Initially, the MoRTH opposed the writ petition but as the litigation progressed, the matter was looked at in a non-adversarial manner and considered as one in public interest.
How the PIL got GoI act?
The court, on April 22, 2014, passed an order constituting a committee on road safety under the chairmanship of Justice K.S.Radhakrishnan, a former SC judge. The committee, which commenced its work on May 15, 2014, has since submitted 12 reports to the court.
SC said that its recommendations need to be seriously discussed and debated, the state governments were not responding positively and accordingly the MoRTH secretary was directed to call a meeting of his counterparts from all states and union territories.
After amicus curiae Gaurav Agrawal informed the court that the states were still not cooperating with the Radhakrishnan committee, it had no option but to again direct the transport secretaries of all states to attend a meeting to be convened by MoRTH secretary on Sept 7, 2016.
Finally, on April 11, 2017, the SC was informed that the GoI has woken up to the problems faced due to road accidents and had prepared a Bill for the amendment of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The amicus prepared a chart in 3 columns – relating to the issues the court had been dealing with in this PIL, views expressed by the MoRTH on these issues and the orders prayed for by the amicus curiae.
“A perusal of the chart indicates that the GoI has now begun considering the issues raised in right spirit and has accepted almost all suggestions. Those that form a part of the Bill seeking to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 will be considered by the Parliament,” the Bench observed.