NEW DELHI, Jan 2: Fuel pumps in several states are witnessing long queues as people feared the pumps to dry up soon as drivers of commercial vehicles including truck and tanker drivers, private buses, and in some states even the government bus drivers, and cab drivers have launched a three-day protest strike from the New Year’s day against the new hit and run law that have enhanced the punishment by more than five times.
Fuel pumps are the first to feel the pinch of the truckers’ strike but the supply of other essential commodities would also be affected if the strike continued for some more days. Rush to the fuel pumps had been caused by panic buying amid apprehensions that the truckers’ protest against the soon-to-be-implemented criminal code will hit supply.
Drivers of commercial vehicles, including trucks and tankers, stopped work across several States on January 1 to protest against the provision in the new penal law on hit-and-run law road accident cases. The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, which will replace the Indian Penal Code, has a provision that attracts punishment of up to 10 years and a fine of up to Rs seven lakhs for drivers who cause a serious road accident by negligent driving and run away without informing the police or any official from the administration.
The new law replace the IPC under which the punishment for the similar offence was a jail term of up to two years, or fine or both. Protests have broken out in several states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Punjab, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, against the high penalties for hit-and-run accidents in Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, which is set to replace the colonial-era Indian Penal Code.
Truckers, cab drivers and others operating commercial vehicles are asking how they would pay such a high fine in the event of an accident. Happy Sidhu, president of All Punjab Truck Operators’ Union, called the new law a “black law” that will destroy truckers in Punjab.
Drivers of thousands of tankers that transport fuel to pumps are part of the protest. With them joining the strike, fuel crisis has already gripped several cities and other urban centres fear a similar situation in the coming days. An association of petrol pump dealers in Aurangabad have said fuel pumps in the district may go dry by Tuesday.
“Drivers of tankers that carry fuel from Panewadi (in Nashik) have called for agitation and have stopped filling fuel,” Aqeel Abbas, secretary of the association, said. At Himachal in the north, the strike has already hit the tourism sector. Local media reports have said tourists are struggling to find vehicles after cab operators joined the strike against the new law. Anil Garg, president of Maharashtra school bus owners’ association, said school buses would operate till they run out of diesel. “If diesel supply stops, school buses will stop too.”
Tyres were burnt and roads blocked in Patna as truck operators raised slogans against the new law, questioning who will feed their families if they stay in jail for 10 years. In Navi Mumbai, a group of truckers attacked a policeman early on Tuesday morning. The cops had to use force to disperse the mob on Mumbai-Bengaluru highway.
In Thane, the protesters blocked Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway and threw stones at police. A policeman was injured and a police vehicle damaged. At Dhar in Madhya Pradesh, private bus and truck drivers blocked the Pitampur highway. Protests were held in Bhopal and Chhattisgarh capital Raipur too.
At Raipur, a bus driver said, “We are poor people. Penal action should be taken against the owners of our vehicles. This law is unfair on us. We will continue to be on strike till our demands are met.” At Aurangabad in Maharashtra, truck driver Syed Wajed said, “We are drivers, how can we pay such a huge fine?”
Hit-and-run accidents and death due to rash driving is covered under the law for causing death by negligence. In the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita. The law, which has received the President’s assent after it cleared Parliament, has two clauses under Section 104. “Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine,” says the first clause.
“Whoever causes death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide and escapes from the scene of incident or fails to report the incident to a Police officer or Magistrate soon after the incident, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description of a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine,” says the second.
Currently, hit-and-run accidents are covered by IPC’s Section 304A. “Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both,” it states.
Truck drivers staged ‘rasta roko’ protests at many places in Maharashtra on Monday. The protests raised the spectre of a shortage of fuel at some places. Some petrol pumps in Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar district have already stopped functioning, an office-bearer of the petroleum dealers association said.
Road blockade protests were also held in Solapur, Kolhapur, Nagpur and Gondia districts, officials said, adding that the situation in Navi Mumbai and other places is under control. At least 40 truck drivers were arrested in Navi Mumbai, a police official said, adding that six persons involved in beating up the policeman have been identified.
In Gujarat, officials said protesters set up blocks on highways passing through Kheda, Valsad, Gir Somnath, Bharuch and Mehsana districts by parking vehicles. The Mehsana-Ambaji highway in Mehsana and Ahmedabad-Indore highway in Kheda were blocked for some time after protesters placed burning tyres on the arterial routes.
A video showing a long queue of parked trucks on Ahmedabad-Vadodara highway near Kanera village in Kheda was widely circulated on social media, with those uploading them asking commuters to avoid the route due to a 10-kilometre traffic jam as a result of the protests.
“There were jams on Dholpur-Karauli route, Udaipur-Nathdwara route, Sawai Madhopur-Kota Lalsot route, Bhilwara-Ajmer route and Anupgarh-Ganganagar due to the protest. Operation of roadways buses was affected but it resumed after police intervention,” Rajasthan State Roadways Transport Corporation Spokesperson Ashutosh Awana said.
While road blockades were seen in some places in Madhya Pradesh due to protests by drivers, long queues were witnessed at petrol pumps due to panic over fear of disrupted fuel supply in various cities. Protesting drivers also blocked the Mumbai-Agra National Highway and a few roads in Indore, affecting the movement of vehicles and essential commodities.