New Delhi: Parliament on Wednesday cleared a landmark bill aimed at reversing India’s reputation as the world’s single-largest contributor to road deaths.

The bill is the government’s maiden attempt at enacting a separate law on road safety. It contains stringent rules for vehicle makers, drivers and cab aggregators aimed at changing road behaviour and improving road safety through effective implementation of rules.

The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The bill, passed by the Lok Sabha last week, now requires the President’s nod to become a law.

India overtook China in 2006 as the country with the world’s deadliest roads. A total of 146,133 people were killed on Indian roads in 2015, an increase of 4.6% from 2014, according to the latest data with the roads ministry. The number of road accidents in India increased 2.5% in 2015 to 501,423 while injuries from road accidents rose 1.4% to 500,279 in 2015.

Road accident fatalities jumped 54% in the decade to 2015 in tandem with a sharp increase in the number of vehicles on Indian roads and rapid urbanization and expansion of the road network.

The bill proposes cashless treatment for victims in the first hour of fatal accidents—the so-called golden hour when victims are most likely to be saved by medical treatment—higher penalties for drunk driving and imprisonment and/or penalty for non-compliance with production standards.

The bill was passed in the Upper House by a majority vote of 108-13, while also escaping scrutiny of a select committee.

The Opposition, however, alleged that the Centre has misled the Rajya Sabha on the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill as it was “defective" and not in the form passed in the Lok Sabha last week.

“It is a defective bill," senior Congress leader B.K Hariprasad said, adding that “The clause 94 was not there in the 1988 Act nor is it there in the Act which was passed in Lok Sabha. It has come to this House without taking approval from the other House."

The proposed law also seeks to protect good samaritans or citizens who come forward and rescue accident victims from being harassed by the law.

The bill increases the minimum compensation for hit-and-run accident cases from 25,000 to 2 lakh in case of death and from 12,500 to 50,000 in case of grievous injury.

Nitin Gadkari, Union road transport and highways minister, said a total of 14,500 crore is being spent on safeguarding fatal spots which are vulnerable to road accidents. “Road engineering is responsible for road accidents and it is wrong to blame drivers. In this regard, 786 spots have been chosen and 14,500 crore has been infused," he said, adding that it was imperative to identify and improve “fatal spots."

The bill also has a provision to penalize construction companies for building faulty roads.

Toward safety issues, the bill provides for setting up a National Road Safety Board by the government through a notification. The proposed law suggested higher penalty for offences such as driving without a licence, speeding, dangerous driving, drunk driving and for vehicles plying without a permit. Additionally, those who do not give way to an ambulance or fire brigade may have to face a hefty fine of as much as 10,000 and/or imprisonment up to six months.

Obtaining a driving licence (DL) could get tougher. The process of obtaining a licence will become technology- driven, reducing human interface to curb corruption. Currently, licence testing is manual, which means untrained people are also able to procure a licence. A national register of driving licence will be created comprising nationwide licence data to make transfer of vehicles across states easier and weed out fake licences.

The government will also have the power to regulate taxi aggregators such as Ola and Uber as the current Motor Vehicles Act does not recognize cab aggregators as a separate entity. Adding the word “aggregators" in the Act will give power to the Centre to frame guidelines for these companies and make them more compliant.

Likewise, the bill allows the Union government to order motor vehicles recalled if it thinks a defect in the vehicle may cause damage to the environment, the driver or other road users.

Shreya Nandi contributed to this story.

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