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R Srinivasan | Updated on February 09, 2020

Why the Guwahati HC’s ban on unsafe cars is important

Rita Das Mozumdar has suddenly become Public Enemy No 1 for the automobile industry in India. The reason: a public interest litigation filed by the Guwahati lawyer in her personal capacity has caused the Guwahati High Court to stay the sale of as many as 140 models of small cars manufactured in India, for failing to meet crash safety norms applicable in developed markets such as Europe.

The ban is temporary. The petition will be taken up again for hearing next week, and it is highly likely that the automobile industry, which has lined up formidable legal fire power to battle the ban, may well succeed in having it lifted. But even this temporary speed-breaker in a tiny part of the Indian market — Assam accounts for just two per cent of India’s annual passenger vehicle sales of 2.6 million units — should serve as a wake-up call to both policymakers and the industry to get tougher on safety standards for vehicles.

Mozumdar’s argument is that in a hilly state like Assam, stricter crash tests — like the frontal offset crash test — should be made mandatory, and not the frontal impact test, which is the current standard.

Forget the hilly terrain argument for a moment. The fact is that Indian cars do not meet global safety standards. The tests conducted a couple of years ago by the Global New Car Assessment Programme found that no Indian small car tested met safety norms. Our policy on the matter is also lax, with the auto industry managing to sell its argument that installing basic safety equipment like air bags and better braking systems will make cars costly. This is absurd. It is high time the authorities got tougher with the industry on safety-related issues. With the highest number of vehicular accident-related fatalities in the world, we cannot afford any more delay on this.

Senior Associate Editor

Published on August 21, 2015

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