Opening up the transport sector for big monopoly capitalists
The Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill 2017 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 10th April 2017 and is pending in the Rajya Sabha. The original Motor Vehicles Act was enacted in 1988.
The stated intent of this Act, when passed, is to ensure road safety and to reduce accidents and to stem corruption in the various processes of licensing, permits, fitness certificates of vehicles, insurance and taxation, etc. But in reality, the Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill (MV Bill, 2017) has provisions which open up the public transport sector for private players.
Its real purpose is to facilitate corporate takeover of various aspects of the Motor Vehicle sector. In pursuit of this aim, the drive is towards the monopolization of the sector by private capital, the destruction of public transportation and all small businesses allied to motor vehicles. From small mechanics, drivers of heavy and light commercial vehicles to auto drivers, state transport workers and driving schools, many public sector and private sector and self-employed workers are under threat of being wiped out by the provisions of this potential Act. Transport workers’ unions estimate that more than four crore workers nation-wide could be affected if this law goes through.
This Act will shut shop of all motor vehicle mechanics and small spare parts manufacturers to serve the interests of the big automobile manufacturing companies. This is because the Bill mandates that vehicles can only be repaired in repair shops run by the manufacturer of the vehicle. If the vehicle develops a problem, it cannot be just taken to the nearest mechanic. Instead, it has to be taken to the repair shop run by the car company. The argument for this is that the small repair shops may use faulty parts, leading to road accidents! One of the main causes of road accidents is the conditions of the roads which is the responsibility of the governments at various levels – centre, state, municipalities. This is not being addressed at all in the Bill which claims its intention is to ensure road safety.
The Bill seeks to increase fines and penalties for violations of transport regulations many times over the existing levels. It removes the ceiling on the liability of third party insurance. This puts drivers and transport operators at great risk of being forced to fork out a lot of money that is beyond their means and will benefit the insurance companies. If the government is serious about ensuring road safety, then the existing regulations and laws must be implemented across the board. Their implementation is more in violation, and very arbitrary. The experience of the public is that the rich and powerful, especially big capitalists and politicians, get away with big traffic violations and crimes while the ordinary people, especially the poor, bear the brunt of the fines. Even if the state wants to increase fines and punishments for traffic violations as a more effective deterrent, this can be done within the framework of the 1980 Act.
The public transportation system at present is a state subject and is operated by State Transport Undertakings (STUs) under the direct control of the State Government. These State Transport Undertakings offer travelling facilities at low rates as compared to private buses. Allowing private players to come into this sector will mean higher fares that will impose a much higher burden on the public. Experience shows that private undertakings will be run with the sole aim of making money and not to provide a necessary public service. For the workers, private corporations will mean longer working hours, unfair compensation and restriction on the right to form unions.
Another group that will be affected is drivers of auto-rickshaws and taxis. Unlike today, these rivers would not be able to operate their own auto-rickshaws or taxis. Under the new Bill, taxis and autos can only be operated as part of a bigger business. The effect of such rules can be seen, for example, in Singapore. That city has 30,000 taxis. But these are owned by 6 businesses.
Four years ago, the government had attempted to bring in the Road Transport and Safety Bill 2014 to replace the Motor Vehicles Act 1988. The Bill met with still opposition from transport sector workers across the country and was withdrawn. Now the attempt is being made again and is being met with widespread opposition yet again.
More than three crore road transport workers in state-transport, private passenger transport, goods transport and small passenger transport like auto, taxi etc., carried out a massive strike action throughout the country on 7th August 2018, against this Bill. The All India Coordination Committee of Road Transport Workers Organisations comprising all road transport workers’ unions affiliated to CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, AIUTUC, AICCTU, LPF, UTUC and TUCC had jointly called for the strike action. The strike was total in several states. In several states, state transport vehicles were off the road, while even small private transporters supported the strike. Auto, taxi and lorry workers also struck work in support of the agitation. The demands included “Revoke the amendments made to Motor Vehicles Act” and “Curtail the prices of diesel and petrol.”
In recent years, the transport sector has been hit by strikes of workers of state transport undertakings from Punjab and Haryana to Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamilnadu. The workers’ unions have opposed all moves to privatize public transport and have struck work in support of their demands for better working conditions and remuneration. This Bill is an attempt to break the struggles of the workers and restrict their right to unionise.
The Bill seeks to create a National Transportation Policy giving more power to the central government over all aspects of the transportation sector across the country. Therefore it is also being opposed by some State governments as it will reduce the authority the state governments had in transportation. These rights will be taken from the state government by the Central government and given to the National Authority. The National Authority will be constituted by the Central Government.
In sum, the proposed Act will lead to the entry of large private operators into the transport sector and domination by monopoly corporations of the sector, through greater centralization of authority. Finance capital is increasingly eyeing this huge sector to increase its profits. Already, insurance companies make huge monies from the road transport industry, by bleeding the owners of vehicles. Many of the draconian provisions of the Bill, including the points system and the huge fines, will result in private and foreign insurance companies making huge profits.
If the state is actually interested in securing road safety then it would invest in improving road and transport infrastructure, rather than on privatization of transport services, which is what the Bill seems to be primarily aimed at. Privatisation of transport services does not in any way guarantee safe, affordable, adequate transport; on the other hand, it increases the cost of transport for the masses of people.