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Report No. 119

Chapter III

Proliferation of Motor Transport

3.1. In order to appreciate that the proposed change which is being recommended by this Report has become a compelling necessity, it is necessary to gauge the present position with regard to road transport. Even after great strides having been taken during the last six Plan periods, the country's economy is still largely agrarian in character and the settlement pattern is rural-oriented.1 Roads accordingly constitute a critical element of the transportation infrastructure. Since the inception of planning (1952), the road network has expanded from 4 lath k.m. to 17.7 lath k.m. The National Highways encompass a road length of 37,110 k.m. and carry nearly a third of the total road traffic.

The rural road network now connects 64% of the villages, though not with all-weather roads. Amongst various objectives of the Seventh Plan, there has to be continued emphasis on provision of roads to villages so as to achieve "Minimum Needs Programme" targets by 1990 as also reduction in road accident rates.2 By the end of the Seventh Plan period, it is intended by the "Minimum Needs Programme" for rural road construction linking of all villages with a population of 1500 and above and 50% of the villages with a population between 1000 and 1500.

1. The Seventh Five Year Plan, 1985-1990, Vol. II, para. 8.54, p. 485.

2. Id., pp. 485, 486.

3.2. With the improvement in the road transport facility, simultaneously the motor vehicle population in the country has been continuously increasing. From just 34,000 in 1950-51, the number of buses has gone up to 2,60,000 in 1984-85. During the same period, the number of trucks increased from 82,000 to 7,63,000. The Seventh Plan envisages an annual growth of 8% of both the truck and bus fleet.1

1. Id., para. 8.87, p. 494.

3.3. In 1984, 12,19,752 tourists (including Nationals of Pakistan and Bangladesh) visited India. The foreign exchange earnings from tourism were estimated at Rs. 1,200 crores for 1983-84. During the Seventh Plan period, the aim is to achieve an annual growth rate of 7% in the tourist arrivals.

3.4. Better roads, more modern vehicles, love for travel, incentives to Tourism industry, constraints in capacity on the Railways, combined with inherent advantages of road transport, and expansion of the road network, all in their cumulative effect, contributed to ever rising numerous motor accidents. Victims of road accidents are, generally speaking, poor pedestrians and the dependants of such poor pedestrians have to seek out a forum for compensation. Obviously, as a compelling necessity, the forum must be within their easy reach.

3.5. With inter-state operation permits, as envisaged by section 63(7), expanding year after year, the middle and lower middle class people hire buses on contract carriage and move out to distant parts of the country. Schools organise educational tours, and religious fervours encourage journey to distant holy shrines. Numerous lower middle-class people travel from the extreme southern tip of the country to Badrinarayan and Kedarnath, the northern most points in the Himalayas. Similarly, people from the eastern part of the country travel to Dwarka and vice versa. Goods transport trucks criss-cross the country from one end to the other end.

While undoubtedly the roads are being improved, the roads were laid for a slow moving economy and the roads cater to not very heavy trucks. As we move to the 21st century, bigger air-conditioned buses, heavy tonnage goods vehicles, have started appearing on the roads. The roads are not simultaneously widened, nor are any special channels set apart for goods vehicles. A noticeable tendency of the drivers of the goods vehicles is to move at an alarming speed so that if the distance is covered faster, the profits multiply. In their cumulative effect, all these factors have taken a toll of human life, an ever-rising graph of motor accidents.

3.6. Buses with contract carriage permits having inter-state operation rights move throughout the length and breadth of the country. Those who hire a contract carriage bus are people who are either of the same village or a small city, or are members of the same community or are students of the same school. After a bus taken on contract carriage, travels hundreds of miles and meets with an accident, the victims of the accidents, in view of section 110A(2) have to file their claims petition at a place far away from their habitat. Recently, a bus from Gujarat on the way to the shrines in the Himalayas met with an accident and about 23 persons died and 15 others suffered injuries. The accident occurred within the jurisdiction of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal at Garhwal in Uttar Pradesh.

The dependants of victims of the accident and the injured persons-all had to travel more than 1500 miles to reach the Accidents Claims Tribunal having jurisdiction to entertain their petition for compensation. Is not the distance prohibitive for any middle-class or lower middle-class person to travel such a distance and initiate action? Would not the distance be itself a disincentive? Would it not be a geographical barrier to access to justice? Is not the geographical barrier directly inter-linked with the economic barrier because one who is wealthy and well-to-do, distance would be ignored? And small claims may not be preferred only because the time, the cost and the labour involved in realising the same would be disproportionately higher than the benefit acquired. Section 110A(2) thus becomes, instead of providing an exclusive forum but at such a prohibitive distance as not to be of any use and utility, a barrier to access to justice. Can this barrier to access to justice be removed or surmounted? That is the area of inquiry.

3.7. The geographic barrier to access to justice is also to some extent an economic barrier. Forum at a long distance would be a disincentive. It can become physically or economically impossible for disputants to use the courts for most disputes.1 Cost of travel, taking witnesses, finding lodging and boarding would add to costs of litigation and render geographic barrier an economic barrier. Litigation by persons of modest means who have lost a bread winner, or whose capacity to earn is impaired by injury would be effectively foreclosed by the distant forum. Therefore the 'haves' always come out better in litigation s tra tegies.2

1. Access to Justice, Vol. III, p. 10.

2. Galatenr Why the "Haves" Come Out Ahead: Speculation on the Limits of Legal Change, (1974) 9 Law and Society Review, p. 95.

3.8. It is therefore imperative to discuss the importance of accessibility of courts as one feature in improving the quality of the 'justice industry'.1

1. Cahn and Cahn What, Prize Justice? The Civilian Perspective Revisited, (1966) 41 Notre Dame Lawyer, p. 929.

3.9. The problem of access can be addressed in a number of ways. The design of any given dispute resolution forum-including a court-involves a series of policy decisions.1 The fundamental strategies available to respond to perceived deficiencies of the present time lies in bringing it within the easy reach of claimants.

1. Access to Justice, Vol. III, p. 14.



Access to Exclusive Forum for Victims of Motor Accidents under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 Back




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