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13 April 2017 Editorial

 

13 APRIL 2017

In a safer lane

Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill

States should start preparing to implement the changes in the Motor Vehicles Act

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill passed by the LokSabha this week will take a little more time to come into force, since it has not cleared the RajyaSabha in the Budget session. But the changes that it proposes to the Motor Vehicles (MV) Act of 1988 are significant. The Centre assumes a direct role in the reforms, since it will introduce guidelines that bind State governments in several areas, notably in creating a framework for taxicab aggregators, financing insurance to treat the injured and to compensate families of the dead in hit-and-run cases, prescribing standards for electronically monitoring highways and urban roads for enforcement and modernising driver licensing. There is a dire need to have clear rules and transparent processes in all these areas, since transport bureaucracies have remained unresponsive to the needs of a growing economy that is witnessing a steady rise in motorisation. The bottleneck created by their lack of capacity has stifled regulatory reform in the transport sector and only encouraged corruption. There is some concern that the move to amend the MV Act overly emphasises the concurrent jurisdiction of the Centre at the cost of State powers, but the proposed changes come after a long consultation exercise. A group of State Transport Ministers went into the reform question last year, while the comprehensive recommendations of the Sundar Committee on road safety have been left on the back burner for nearly a decade.

It may appear counter-intuitive, but research shows that imposing stricter penalties tends to reduce the level of enforcement of road rules. As the IIT Delhi's Road Safety in India report of 2015 points out, the deterrent effect of law depends on the severity and swiftness of penalties, but also the perception that the possibility of being caught for violations is high. The amendments to the MV Act set enhanced penalties for several offences, notably drunken driving, speeding, jumping red lights and so on, but periodic and ineffective enforcement, which is the norm, makes it less likely that these will be uniformly applied. Without an accountable and professional police force, the ghastly record of traffic fatalities, which stood at 1,46,133 in 2015, is unlikely to change. On another front, State governments must prepare for an early roll-out of administrative reforms prescribed in the amended law, such as issuing learner's licences online, recording address changes through an online application, and electronic service delivery with set deadlines. Indeed, to eliminate corruption, all applications should be accepted by transport departments online, rather than merely computerising them. Protection from harassment for good samaritans who help accident victims is something the amended law provides, and this needs to be in place.

 

Another crisis

Nepal amendment to Constitution

Some give and take is the only way out of Nepal's constitutional impasse

With Madhesi parties deciding to boycott local polls scheduled for May 14, Nepal is heading for another political crisis. The boycott decision came after the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre)-led government tabled fresh amendments to the Constitution in Parliament. Ever since the country adopted the new post-monarchy Constitution in September 2015, Madhesi parties have been demanding a redrawing of federal boundaries to reflect the fact that the community, residents of the Terai area, and other minority groups are in a majority in some new provinces. The government led by CPN(M-C) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, with the Nepali Congress part of the coalition, came to power in 2016 on the promise of accommodating these demands to the extent possible and forging a reasonable consensus across the political spectrum. The government had also initiated amendments that went some way in addressing Madhesi concerns, such as the formation of a federal commission to look into a redrawing of federal boundaries, and the recognition of local languages as national ones. These amendments were, however, rejected by Madhesi parties, which stuck to a maximalist position. The opposition Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist-Leninist) also rejected them, though for being too giving. Unable to forge any consensus, the government came up with the fresh amendments as a signal that it is willing to concede some of the Madhesi demands in return for their participation in the long-pending local polls. But the absence of substantive efforts to address the federal question has resulted in a Madhesi boycott.

Nine years have passed since elections to the first Constituent Assembly were held. Beyond Nepal's transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic, the lack of consensus on other issues pushed the finalisation of the Constitution far beyond the original remit of the Constituent Assembly, which was to have concluded the process in two years. The new Constituent Assembly elected in 2013 was less amenable to changes, especially to the state structure, and the Madhesi parties refused to accept the finalised Constitution in 2015. The impasse on the state restructuring issue has given rise to disturbing trends - jingoism, that sees Madhesi concerns as reflecting the interests of external actors such as India, and voices of secessionism among Madhesi forces who suggest that the Nepali polity is incapable of addressing the plain-dwellers' concerns. This political battle of wits has taken away much- needed focus from the dire state of the economy, which is yet to recover from the shock of the devastating earthquake of 2015. Local elections are seen as a way to allow for a much-needed administrative presence everywhere, but this cannot happen without the participation of all political forces, especially Madhesis. The government has its task cut out to manage a compromise.

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