Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Apr 30:
The 12-hour nationwide commercial transport strike today had a mixed response in Odisha. While long distance and inter-state buses and trucks preferred to not take any chances, it was business as usual for most of the local operators.
The strike was largely peaceful with no reports of violence from anywhere in the state. Passengers commuting on routes where the carriers were observing the strike, however, were seriously inconvenienced in scorching heat and energy-sapping humidity as the strike was not sufficiently publicized.
“I had come to Bhubaneswar on work and was about to go back home today. But after coming to Baramunda bus stand, I discovered that the buses are off the road. Now I have to stay here for one more day unnecessarily and waste time and money on lodging,” said Manoj Pradhan at the bus stand in the city.
While many passengers suffered due to the strike, the worst hit were students with heavy luggage waiting at the bus stands to go back home for the summer vacation and senior citizens braving the scorching April heat.
The bus drivers made out a strong case for roll back of the proposed new transport law that would make life difficult for most of them.
“The new law provides for seven lakh rupees penalty and seven years of imprisonment in case of a fatal accident. Given the traffic and road condition these days, no one can one guarantee that there would be no accident. The government is not going to take care of our families if we go to jail. We would rather not drive. This law is too stringent and we demand a revision,” said a bus driver.
The strike was part of the nationwide agitation by major trade unions demanding repeal of the Road Transport and Safety Bill – 2014 and alleged anti-worker policies of the union government.
The bill provides for some stringent rules such as Unified Driving Licensing System as well as automated driving licence tests. Besides, it proposes a points-based system for recording traffic violations for each licence holder and provides for penalty points for a driver which will be displayed on his record for three years. A total of 12 points would lead to the suspension of licence for one year. This is over and above the fines and jail terms defined under the act, which the transporters are opposing.
The protest is also against the hefty penalties that are proposed in the new bill such as Rs.50,000 for rash driving, Rs.10,000 for drunken driving and up to Rs.6,000 for over-speeding. The bill also proposes a regulatory authority, not only to advise the central and state governments on road safety, but also have the powers to ensure that the norms laid down are followed by all stake-holders.
But the one provision that has really raised the hackles of the drivers is the provision that makes it mandatory to be a marticulate to get a driving license. A majority of drivers of commercial transport vehicles, especially trucks, stand to lose their driving licenses if this provision obtains parliamentary approval.
The ministry of road transport and highways says this is necessary so as to reduce road accidents by at least 200,000 over the next five years, as opposed to some 490,000 accidents each year – 25 percent of them fatal in nature.
The bill was earlier rejected by parliamentary standing committee in 2012. The BJP-led NDA government started working on it aggressively post the death of its senior leader and minister Gopinath Munde in a road accident in Delhi last year. However, it is yet to be put before the Cabinet for approval. Notably, it is facing stiff opposition from various trade unions and political parties including AIADMK.