Azam Khan sits on his rusted chair as he oversees his men at work in a dingy little shop near his house in Nithari village, Noida. The 38-year-old has been a mechanic for 18 years. Each month, he has to struggle to pay his rent on time, sending his three kids to school and taking care of neverending miscellaneous expenses, which keep mounting. Azam is oblivious of a law in the making, which, if implemented, could render lakhs like him jobless.
The Road Transport and Safety Bill 2015 may spell doom for lakhs of smallscale mechanics spread across the country. The Bill, which has already undergone four drafts, intends to encourage the servicing of vehicles only by ‘authorised’ service centres. The Section 104, chapter V of the fourth draft of the Bill states: “A vehicle service station or repair and maintenance facility or any other establishment whether public or private may be designated as an authorised testing station with regard to the experience, training and ability of the operator of such station or facility and the testing equipment and testing personnel in accordance with the regulations made by the concerned national authority in this regard.”
The process of ‘authorisation’ appears to be a rigorous one. While it will help in assessing the competency and quality of large service centres, it will leave the fate of small-scale mechanics at the mercy of the ‘authorisation-granting’ officials.
It was the death of Union Cabinet minister Gopinath Munde on 3 June 2014, which stirred the government into action with regard to the issue of road safety. Soon after, a comprehensive road safety Bill was proposed to replace the Motor Vehicle Regulation Act of 1988. The Bill was slated to pass within a month but the government has missed several selfimposed deadlines.
According to the initial draft, the Road Transport and Safety Bill aims at creating 10 lakh jobs with a marked ‘increase in investment in the sector’. It expects ‘to increase the country’s gdp by four percent and save nearly two lakh lives by reducing road accidents in the next five years. The Bill, thus, intends to work at two objectives simultaneously: revenue generation and road safety.
On the question of what constitutes an ‘authorised’ service centre, the Bill lays down some loose guidelines. The process of authorisation itself would involve quality inspection and regulation by the authorities concerned, the implementation of which would be quite cumbersome. However, some believe that such quality control is the need of the hour. “Vehicle technology is getting complex and is beyond the competence of roadside mechanics. It has complicated electronics and it could be unsafe if untrained mechanics tend to it. It is advisable to ensure that the vehicle is clean and safe. I however do not think that the government could propose such a ban, it is highly unlikely,” says Gulshan Ahuja, secretary general, Federation of Automobile Dealers Association.
The proposed drafts of the Bill have faced opposition from various trade and transport unions who feel that under the garb of revenue and employment generation, the government will hand over the stakes of the transport sector to corporates. They are not alone in fearing this since even the state corporations have joined in the protests alleging that the Bill proposes to negate the powers of the state unions entirely.
On 30 April, a 24-hour nationwide strike was called by national-level road transport organisations such as the All India Road Transport Workers (AIRTW), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). The strike witnessed the participation of lakhs of transport workers from both public and private sectors.
“citu demands that the bjp-led government withdraws the Bill which intends to hand over the core transport sector to the corporates and call the road transport workers’ federations for discussion,” Tapan Sen, citu general secretary, said in a press statement.
State governments have also been vocal about their displeasure regarding some proposals in the Bill that aim to negate their own powers in the state transport system. The Tamil Nadu government has reportedly told the Centre that while they are open to certain amendments proposed by the Bill, there is no urgency to repeal the Motor Vehicles Act.
Around 400 two-wheeler mechanics went on hunger strike on 10 June demanding the withdrawal of the Road Transport and Safety Bill. “We all came to know that such a rule might be brought out at anytime but we haven’t spoken to anyone at the Centre yet. However, we have asked for a meeting with the state transport minister and the chief minister. The Bill will only benefit the authorised private dealers. If it is implemented, our licences will be cancelled. It will affect the livelihoods of lakhs of people,” says Kuppuswamy, state president of the Federation of Tamil Nadu Two Wheeler Mechanics’ Association. Till now, Tamil Nadu has been the only state to protest against the proposed Bill.
Resonating the sentiment of lack of participation by other state mechanics and unions, general secretary of the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), Naveen Gupta tells Tehelka, “There is a huge lack of awareness regarding such a provision in the Bill as it is still in its draft stage. The government should not implement a law that will benefit only certain sections and adversely affect the livelihoods of others. After making various revisions, the government has come up with four versions till now. We are currently waiting for the fifth draft to see what amendments and changes are made.” Gupta says that even though authorised and trained mechanics are required, the practical aspects of the situation cannot be overlooked. “For instance, in the event of a car breakdown in the middle of a highway, a person will go to a roadside mechanic to fix it temporarily, rather than waiting for an authorised dealer. The government has given road safety as the prime reason for drafting such a Bill but it is pushing its own agenda in the garb of such reasoning. It could very well be that it is acting under the influence of the authorised service stations lobby. The anti-lock-braking system for vehicles is a valid example. It was made mandatory by the government in order to promote ‘road safety’ and even though the system might be helpful in controlling vehicles from skidding, the truth is that there are barely only two or three dealers in the country to supply them,” he explains.
The fifth draft of the controversial Bill is yet to come out with a fifth revised draft. However, with opposition from various sections, it will not be so easy for the BJP-led government to pass the Bill.