Failure to prevent overloaded vehicles from plying has resulted in increase in the number of road accidents across the country. According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, while the number of road accidents has come down in eight states and seven union territories, it has gone up further in some states.
Besides overloading of vehicles, some of the other reasons behind road accidents are drunken driving, over speeding, unsafe vehicles and poor road geometry.
Last month, the Minister of Road Transport and Highways Dr. C.P. Joshi chaired a meeting on road safety in New Delhi. It was attended by the Transport Ministers and senior officials of various states. After releasing data on road accidents for 2011, the meeting focused on the road safety scenario in the country and deliberated upon the measures that need to be initiated, both by states and the Centre, to reduce road fatalities.
In March this year, the National Highways Authority of India was asked to install weighing machines and other necessary equipment near key toll plazas on a pilot basis to curb the practice of overloading. The nodal agency for development, management and maintenance of national highways proposed constituting a technical committee to review the provisions of Model Concession Agreement and User Fee Rules-2008 in addition to setting up weight enforcement stations approximately 1-2 km. before on either side of toll plazas.
Overloaded vehicles not only cause road accidents but also damage road infrastructure. As per section 114 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, in case a vehicle is found to be overloaded, the excess load needs to be offloaded at the cost of the driver/owner and penalty and compounding fee imposed before allowing the vehicle to proceed further. The Supreme Court has restated the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and directed states to implement the same.
Road transport being a state subject, the responsibility to curb overloading of vehicles lies with state governments. However, realizing the seriousness of the problem, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has been pushing states and UTs from time to time for stricter enforcement of the provisions of law to check the menace of overloading. The National Transport Development Policy Committee meeting, held in December 2011 under the chairmanship of the Road Transport and Highways Secretary, discussed the issue of overloading of vehicles.
So far, 25 states and UTs have initiated action to curb overloading of vehicles.
“A large number of the trucks plying on highways are overloaded by about two to three times,” a source associated with the road sector told Projectmonitor.
“States have failed to curb overloading of vehicles because of the involvement of multiple agencies such as revenue, transport and police departments. There is no real coordination between these departments and whenever an overloaded vehicle is caught, one begins blaming the other. This works to the advantage of the owner/driver of the overloaded vehicle. There is very little that the Centre can do in this matter excepting requesting states to enforce the law,” he added.
Among the other factors cited for the inability to enforce the law regarding mandatory offloading of excess load are indivisibility of the load and lack of infrastructure to offload and store the excess load.
The report of the Working Group on Central Roads Sector for the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) lists a number of suggestions for dealing with the roadblocks faced in enforcing the law with regard to overloading of vehicles. Besides emphasizing on the need to initiate measures for offloading and handling of the excess load, planning necessary infrastructures, and financing and implementation of the policy, the report calls for linking central assistance made available to states in the road sector to their seriousness and initiatives in tackling the menace of overloading in a time bound manner.