India reassures lorry drivers after strike over new hit-and-run law

Nationwide protests had triggered panic-buying amid fears of shortages of essentials

Fears of a prolonged strike caused queues in several cities across India, particularly in the south. AFP
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India's government has promised to consult goods transporters before introducing a law that imposes tougher punishment in fatal hit-and-run cases

It comes after a nationwide strike over the new law, involving bus and lorry drivers, sparked panic-buying in some areas.

The strike was called off after two days, following the reassurance from the government.

The law is part of the country’s new criminal code, or Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, passed by Parliament last month to replace the colonial-era Indian Penal Code.

The new criminal code, which is expected to take effect next year, prescribes punishment of up to 10 years in prison or a maximum of 700,000 rupees ($8,405) fine for those who flee the scene without informing authorities after causing serious road accidents.

India has one of the worst road accident records globally, with an average of 150,000 people dying each year in road crashes, mostly due to negligence and bad roads, according to government data.

Transport unions and drivers demanded a rollback of the provision, before calling for a nationwide strike and road blockades from Monday, after President Droupadi Murmu approved the new criminal code on December 25.

Drivers of lorries, taxis, buses and other commercial vehicle drivers joined the protests in several cities, saying the new law could be used to harass them.

Several cities across India, particularly in the south, saw panic-buying of fuel and other commodities amid fears that a prolonged strike could cause severe shortages of essentials.

The All-India Motor Transport Congress, one of the main transporters' unions, called on all drivers to return to work after meetings with Home Ministry officials in New Delhi, but thousands were reported to be continuing with their strike amid disagreements among the unions over the talks.

The government also appealed to the drivers to return to work, and said the new law would be put in place only after consultations with the industry.

“The government wants to point out that these new laws and provisions have not yet come into force,” the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement late on Tuesday.

“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 All India Motor Transport Congress,” it said.

India has nearly three million lorries carrying goods and fuel to its 1.4 billion population and these are a pillar of its transport sector along with the extensive network of freight trains.

Updated: January 03, 2024, 11:23 AM