A nationwide storm erupted as truck, bus, and tanker operators declared a three-day strike in vehement opposition to the stringent penalties introduced by the recently enacted criminal law, Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita (BNS), specifically targeting hit-and-run cases. The discontent stemmed from the amended legal provisions, notably the heightened penalties, representing a significant departure from the previous Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Background of Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita (BNS):
The Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita, a recently implemented criminal code, drew criticism for its provisions related to hit-and-run incidents. The pivotal aspects of the law included:
Penalties for Rash or Negligent Acts: Perpetrators causing the death of any person by a rash or negligent act could face imprisonment for up to five years along with a fine.
Hit-and-Run Provisions: In cases where a person caused death by rash and negligent driving but escaped without reporting the incident to the authorities, the amended law prescribed imprisonment for up to ten years and a substantial fine.
Alarming Rise in Road Accidents:
Adding to the urgency of the protests was a troubling surge in road accidents across India. In 2022 alone, road accidents increased by a staggering 12%, resulting in the death of 19 individuals every hour, as reported by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH). The alarming statistics underscored the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address road safety concerns.
Nationwide Protests and Fuel Shortages:
Truck drivers nationwide vehemently opposed the updated provisions, labeling them a “kaala kanoon” or black law. The revised penalties, including a potential 10-year jail term or a fine of ₹7 lakh for leaving the accident scene without reporting, intensified the discontent. Approximately 2,000 petrol pumps, primarily in western and northern India, faced fuel shortages during the strike, impacting regions such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Punjab.
Assam’s 24-Hour State-Wide Strike:
In Assam, at the focal point of the protests, truck drivers launched a 48-hour statewide strike, demanding the repeal of the new hit-and-run law. Despite assurances from the Centre to temporarily suspend the legislation for further discussions with stakeholders, the truckers stood resolute in their opposition. The entire movement of commercial vehicles in Assam came to a standstill. Multiple associations, spanning buses, cabs, autos, goods carriers, and fuel tankers, united in the agitation. The transporters’ platform also urged private car owners to join the protest, emphasizing the law’s universal applicability. Long queues formed at petrol pumps across the state as residents rushed to fill their vehicle tanks amid fears of fuel shortages. Later after rounds of meeting, the Union called of the Strike to 24 hours from 48 hours.
Tezpur: Mission Chariali
In Tezpur, the Tezpur Motor Labor Association organized demonstrations at Mission Chariali, disrupting rented cars to express their dissent. The drivers boldly stated that if the government insisted on passing the bill, they should be prepared for extreme actions, and vowed to burn their licenses before the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Amidst the uproar, the association chanted “BJP Government Go Back.” Concurrently, law enforcement agencies deployed substantial police forces to manage the escalating situation.
Resolution and Conclusion:
The protests are now called off. Truck drivers stopped their protests after the government assured them of solutions. The All India Motor Transport Association (AIMTC) concluded the nationwide truckers’ strike after a meeting with Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, where the government addressed concerns and promised a consultation before implementing the new law. As tensions de-escalated nationwide, the clash between authorities and drivers highlighted the pressing need for a resolution. The protests underscored the urgency of revisiting the contentious BNS legislation, emphasizing the broader implications on essential services, fuel supply, and public transportation.