In the previous issue of Public Newsense, we looked at Government of India’s attempt to strengthen road safety by amending the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. At that time, the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill, 2017, had been passed by the Lok Sabha and was awaiting introduction to the Rajya Sabha. Since then, the Amendment Bill was tabled in the Rajya Sabha, then referred to a Rajya Sabha Select Committee which, after consultations with various stakeholders, submitted its report at the end of 2017. The Committee recommended passing the Bill with no changes, albeit with some Committee Members registering dissenting notes. The Bill was expected to be discussed in the Rajya Sabha in the Budget Session, and though it has been listed in the business of the House several times, the Bill is yet to come up for discussion. Unfortunately, the current session of Parliament continues to see much disruption and adjournments.

CAG’s tour of the districts, however, has continued with no disruptions. All 32 districts of the state have been visited, and stakeholder meetings held. As detailed before, there were several viewpoints/opinions which came forth in these meetings. In several districts, bus drivers (largely public transport buses) highlighted the lack of proper accident investigation. They pointed out that if they are involved in an accident, irrespective of the reason for the accident, they (i.e bus drivers) get blamed, leading to FIRs being registered against them. During the meetings, the bus drivers said they were glad to hear from CAG that scientific investigation of accidents was being introduced in the Amendment Bill and that they hoped this would be properly implemented.

The 32nd district was Chennai and the meeting was held in Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed College for Women on March 23, 2018. The meeting saw the participation of the Minister for Transport, Government of Tamil Nadu who spoke eloquently on India lagging behind on road safety. He also highlighted some of the measures that the Tamil Nadu government is mulling over to improve the state’s record in road safety. He noted that driving licences in other countries are much valued as they are not easy to acquire; the tests being extremely rigourous and fake licences not easy to obtain. The Minister said the government was looking to revamp the driving test and make it more intensive. This is something that CAG has highlighted to the Government of India; CAG had put together a position paper on licensing and the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill. As CAG noted, it is unfortunate that the Amendment Bill does not consider an overhaul of the licensing system.

The Chennai district meeting also saw an excellent traditional folk performance, villupattu, by the students of Chevalier T. Thomas Elizabeth College for Women, Perambur. The college had also participated, along with several other city colleges, in a road safety poster competition conducted by CAG in March 2018. The winners of the competition were felicitated at the meeting. CAG also took the opportunity to felicitate a largely ignored stakeholder in road safety - the rank and file traffic police personnel. CAG had approached the Greater Chennai Traffic Police and requested their assistance in identifying personnel who had gone beyond their duty to ensure road safety on the streets of the city. Eight policemen were identified and felicitated at the meeting. The purpose was to underscore the difficult work done by traffic police personnel under tough conditions with little appreciation from the general public.

Tamil Nadu 32 has been an interesting tour of the districts for CAG. We heard a range of opinions and voices and the meetings have shown that the Amendment Bill is not well-known to many. When we shared the changes that the Amendment Bill will bring about, most participants broadly agreed with the road safety points in the Bill.