For two days, lakhs of trucks, especially in the northern region, went on strike - which was called off on Tuesday night - against the proposed legislation on hit-and-run cases under the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023.

Why are the truckers objecting to the legislation? They consider it ‘draconian’ with far-reaching implications for the truck industry, which is the backbone of the economy.

The truckers’ major concern is the proposed 10-year jail term and fine, which they believe will discourage individuals from entering the profession of drivers. Existing drivers may also run away if the legislation comes through. This would be a catastrophe for the industry, which is already facing a significant shortage of drivers, they say.

The All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) acknowledges the importance of road safety but the ‘draconian’ law threatens the very backbone of the economy and the supply chain. The AIMTC represents nearly 95 lakh truckers, transporters, and around 50 lakh bus, tourist, maxi, and cab operators across India.

There is an utter lack of accident investigation protocol in the country. The proposed law does not outline a comprehensive investigation protocol for hit-and-run cases. Clarity is required in determining culpability, especially in situations where a vehicle is struck from behind, or the fault lies with the driver of the smaller vehicle. Without a proper investigation, unjust accusations against certain vehicles may prevail, the AIMTC said.

In many hit-and-run cases, the driver does not flee with the intention of evading responsibility for the accident. Instead, they run to safeguard their life from the potential threat posed by an angry mob and local residents. The lack of security on the road compels them to take such measures. In numerous instances, the driver surrenders to the police and undergoes the necessary court proceedings in accordance with the law, the AIMTC said.

Sachin Haritash, Director of the Delhi-based Chetak Logistics, said that under the present Indian Penal Code, a driver is being prosecuted on the severity of the incident by trials and cross-examination of all witnesses. Trials can go for years and are punishable as per the rule of the land.

In hit-and-run cases, as per existing practice, bigger vehicles are always considered at fault. The anger of mobs at the incident can be fatal for drivers. How will a driver reach the police station and get the complaint registered? Today, in most cases, he runs after an accident to save his life, he said.

Drivers are always at the receiving end if they are not at fault. They become victims as they are the last ones in the transport hierarchy. It’s only for commercial drivers, not for private vehicle drivers. The existing law gives them the freedom to present their point of view in court, not in front of the police. However, under the new law, the police will harass them and extort money by threatening, he said.

While drivers drive their vehicles cautiously, mishaps are not always within their control and, in a few cases, lead to accidents. The government should ensure due consideration is given to the rights of the drivers. A balanced approach has to be taken when making laws, providing equal rights and opportunities to present their point of view, he said.

The proposed law has been introduced without any consultation with stakeholders, particularly representatives from the transport sector. This oversight is critical, as the lack of input from those directly affected may result in unintended consequences during implementation, he said.

The truckers called off the strike on Tuesday night after a meeting with the Home Ministry officials.

The Centre has taken cognizance of the concerns of truckers regarding the provision of 10 years imprisonment and a fine under Section 106 (2) of the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita and held detailed discussions with the representatives of the AIMTC.

The government wants to point out that these new laws and provisions have not yet come into force. We would also like to point out that the decision to invoke Section 106 (2) of the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita will be taken only after consultation with the AIMTC, a release from the Ministry said.