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Road safety?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is driven around in a BMW 7-Series 760Li Security edition. This is an upgraded version of the bullet proof Scorpio used to ferry him earlier. The car is fully compliant with VR7 grade of ballistic protection. It has a self-sealing fuel tank that cannot explode under any circumstances. It can run on flat tyres for several kilometres. The point is the Prime Minister of India is driven around in a car safer than a tank. Contrast this with the fate of millions of Indians who drive around in cars which are deemed hazardous as per global safety standards. A majority of the cars priced below seven lakh, which also happens to be the most popular car segment in terms of sales volumes, failed completely during the Global New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) tests, with most of them getting zero rating on safety. Even members of parliaments are not safe in case of serious car accidents. Gopinath Munde, the face of the BJP in Maharashtra, died of injuries in a road accident when a speeding Indica rammed into the SX4 he was travelling in.

Perhaps the disparity in how the Prime Minister’s driven around and how millions of Indians commute explains the diluted provisions in the Road transport and safety bill. Taking in view the fact that the lenient jail terms awarded for causing death by rash and negligent driving had proved to be of little deterrence, the Supreme Court on Monday requested Parliament to enhance the punishment by amending the existing provisions to put fear of law among those who drive as “emperors of roads.” “In such obtaining circumstances, we are bound to observe that the law makers should scrutinise re-look and re-visit the sentencing policy in Section 304A of IPC. We say so with immense anguish,” said Justice Misra, who authored the judgment for the bench.

While the original draft of the Road safety and transport bill had promised to increase the sentences for negligent and rash driving, the watered down bill has brought down the sentence to at least one year. The Supreme Court is right to point out that such a lenient sentence does not serve as a deterrent to speed demons. It is a common sight to see big cars being driven around like bullet trains in a country which has the dubious distinction of registering one of the highest numbers of road deaths in the world. With the law becoming more lenient towards rash drivers one can expect more Sanjeev Nanda like cases in the country. Perhaps it’s time the Prime Minister stepped out of his bullet proof car and pushed for a law which protects the safety of ordinary citizens on the road; by imposing strict punishments and deterring those who drive recklessly. Millions of Indians whose next of kin die in road accidents for no fault of their own will thank him for it.

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