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Drivers And Transport Workers Threaten To Intensify Protests If Centre Fails To Meet Demands

The All India Road Transport Workers’ Federation, a coalition of many transport and driver trade unions, has threatened to step up protests in the event that the Centre does not promptly remove Sections 104(1) and (2) of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS). In a statement released on January 3, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) backed the protests by labourers and truck drivers against the BNS’s rules regarding the penalties meted out to drivers who cause accidents.

On Wednesday, a number of driver unions declared that they would not stop protesting even after the All India Motor Transport Congress decided to end the unrest.

According to R. Lakshmaiah, general secretary of the federation, if the government persisted, the drivers would have no choice but to step up their resistance. “The drivers in fatal accidents will be punished up to 10 years of jail and fine up to ₹10 lakh. Accident is an accident. There will be no intention at all. In fact the drivers are very much worried about the accidents. Almost all the drivers will pray their God before starting the vehicle every day that there should be no accident,” Mr. Lakshmaiah said.

He added that majority of the accidents were taking place due to defective road constructions, bad condition of roads, lack of segregation of roads, bad weather conditions etc. “Without addressing the real issues contributing to accidents, simply punishing the drivers will not yield results and it is inhuman,” he said. Workers would get ready for a “united and serious” struggle if the Centre did not withdraw the “draconian” provisions. The Union Home Ministry is in discussions with truck owners and drivers on the issue and had assured that the provisions will not be implemented without consultations.

In a statement, Tapan Sen, the general secretary of CITU, stated that the Centre had not taken into account the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs’ suggestion to reexamine Section 104(2) of the BNS. Sen stated that trade unions cannot expect the government to take into account any such collective wisdoms because of the Center’s “scant respect to parliamentary democracy.” He claimed that for the previous three days, motor workers across had been fighting against these harsh regulations. The road transport workers’ strike actions have the full backing of the CITU. Sensing the growing support for the strike among workers and those who drive, the administration promised not to enforce the punitive clause but has said nothing to change it, he continued.

Following a meeting with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the All India Motor Transport Congress called off the agitation, although numerous driver unions nationwide declared on Wednesday that they will still protest.

A number of union officials demonstrating at Jantar Mantar announced that they would begin a nationwide “steering chodo andolan” on Thursday, during which they would abstain from operating any motor vehicles.

The objection is related to the MHA’s soon-to-be-implemented BNS, which has two sections: 106 (1) and 106 (2). These sections stipulate that, in the event of a “hit and run” case, the former will mean imprisonment for 0–5 years and the latter for 0–10 years. According to government sources, the duration of the imprisonment has been increased because of the observations made by the Supreme Court. “Earlier, if a driver had accidentally hit someone and informed the police on time then he or she would face a lesser punishment of five years,” added the source.

Divendra Sharma, president of the Rashtriya Sarthi Sevak Foundation, Delhi, told that on many occasions, the drivers flee to save their own lives. “A commercial driver, traversing different States, is much more likely to get lynched if he accidentally hits someone, and in order to save their lives, they flee the spot. No driver sets out on the roads to kill people,” added Mr. Sharma. He stressed that the law should only be made after speaking to stakeholders.

Another protester Vimalendra, president of Tamil Nadu’s Drivers’ Voice of rights consumer labour association, said that before drafting or passing such laws, lawmakers should visit several households of the drivers to understand their struggles. “A driver hardly makes enough money to put food on the plates of their family members and if a driver accidentally kills someone, then who will support these already economically backward families?” he asks.

Mr. Vimalendra says that if the law gets implemented it will “kill all the drivers”.

While expressing his anger over the yet-to-be-implemented law, Pradeep Mohanty, president of the Night Help Group Cab association in Odisha, said the government, instead of empowering the drivers with more rights like pension, accident cover and education for their children, was after their lives. “I make ₹8,000 a month after working for over 10 hours a day. I have no savings and my job doesn’t entail any perks to take care of my family. If I by mistake get into an accident who will take care of my family after the government sends me behind bars for 10 years?” asks Mr. Mohanty.

“The nation will come to a standstill when all drivers join the steering chodo andolan from Thursday,” added Mr. Vimalendra.

In addition to repealing the law that has not yet been put into effect, demonstrators are calling for a “drivers’ aayog” that will lawfully assist drivers and grant them benefits like pensions and provident funds, as well as guarantee their children receive a quality education. According to them, the drivers of autorickshaws, taxis, and trucks plan to carry on their statewide protest until their demands are satisfied.

The Delhi Petrol Dealers’ Association spokeswoman, Nishit Goyal, stated: “The fuel supply to dealers has been affected for the last two days.” However, since the strike was called off, the situation has steadied. There was no scarcity or instances of frantic purchasing.

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