Immediate Compensation To Kin Of Deceased; State To Fight Legal Battle On Behalf Of Victims: Here Are The Highlights Of Bihar's New Law To Compensate Road Accident Victims

Immediate Compensation To Kin Of Deceased; State To Fight Legal Battle On Behalf Of Victims: Here Are The Highlights Of Bihar's New Law To Compensate Road Accident Victims Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (Facebook)
Snapshot
  • The amended Bihar Motor Vehicles Rules, which come into force from September 15, promise that families of those who die in road accidents will be paid Rs 5 lakh within 15 days of the accident.

    The new rules also make it mandatory for the Bihar State Transport Appellate Tribunal to settle all accident claims within 60 days.

Bihar has amended the state’s motor vehicle rules to provide relief to victims of road accidents and fast-track the process of settling claims.

The primary relief is from the endless litigation over insurance claims that victims of road accidents and their families get bogged down with. From now on, the state government will fight the legal battle on behalf of the victims.

The amended Bihar Motor Vehicles Rules, which come into force from September 15, promise that families of those who die in road accidents will be paid Rs 5 lakh within 15 days of the accident.

The new rules also make it mandatory for the Bihar State Transport Appellate Tribunal to settle all accident claims within 60 days. If the insurance company challenges the tribunal’s order in a court, the state government--and not the victim or his/her family--will fight the case legally on behalf of the claimant.

This will come as a huge relief to victims of road accidents and families of those who die in such accidents. Road accident claims in civil courts linger on for many years and victims and their families have to suffer endlessly.

Bihar has also enhanced the compensation for those who suffer grievous injuries from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh. This compensation, too, will be paid within 15 days of the accident.

The compensation will be paid from a revolving corpus of Rs 50 crore called the Bihar Motor Vehicle Accident Assistance Fund. The state government will pay the compensation from this fund to the victim(s) of an accident immediately and recover the amount from the insurance company after the appellate tribunal settles the claim(s) within the 60-day period.

In case of accidents involving uninsured vehicles, the state government will recover the amount from the owner of the vehicle by auctioning the vehicle after seizing it. If the amount recovered from the auction is lower than the compensation paid to the victim, the deficit will be met from the Accident Assistance Fund.

As for hit-and-run cases where the vehicle(s) cannot be traced, the compensation will come from the Assistance Fund. The Union Government pays Rs 50,000 to victims of hit-and-run cases and this amount will then be deposited in the Assistance Fund.

Under the new rules, which were approved by the state cabinet last month, the entire process of investigation will also become much simpler. Sub-Divisional Officers (SDOs) will function as accident claim enquiry officers while the District Magistrates (DMs) will be accident claims assessment officers.

The SDOs will conduct the preliminary enquiry on the basis of inspection of an accident site by the police and motor vehicle inspectors.

State transport secretary Sanjay Kumar Agarwal said that under the new rules, site inspection or examination of witnesses has been done away with during the trial stage. Only if the compensation awarded is challenged by the insurance firm will a summary trial be conducted on the basis of the petition of the victim or his/her relatives, reports by the police, SDO and DM, and deposition by the insurance company.

If an award by the Appellate Tribunal is challenged by the insurance firm before a higher court, the state government will fight the case on behalf of the victim. The state will meet all legal and other costs on its own.

Road safety experts say that the new rules in Bihar are similar to those in some western countries.

The state government will also launch a vigorous drive to force owners of all vehicles in the state to renew their insurance. According to figures for 2019-2020, nearly a fifth of the 1.6 lakh vehicles registered in Bihar have not renewed their insurance.

“This is a model that all other states in the country need to replicate. Almost 80 per cent of accident victims or their families have to wait for over five years to get their compensation claims settled. About 40 per cent of the cases drag on for more than ten years and 22 per cent for more than 12 years,” said road safety expert Binod Mishra.

“On top of these cases dragging on interminably, victims also have to engage lawyers on their own . Ultimately, the system prevailing in the country is loaded against a road accident victim who not only suffers due to the accident, his (and his family’s) agony is prolonged due to long legal procedures in case insurance companies challenge the claims, which they often do,” said Mishra.

According to the Union Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH), 4,49,002 road accidents occured in India in 2019, leading to 1,51,113 deaths and 4,51,361 injuries (see this MoRTH report).

According to this report, Bihar ranks 15th in road accidents and 9th in the number of fatalities. Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat are among states which rank higher than Bihar, both in terms of number of road accidents and deaths.

According to studies carried out by MoRTH, 84 per cent of the road accident fatalities are in the age group of 15 to 60 years, meaning that almost all of them were bread winners of families. Most of those who suffer grievous injuries are also in this age group and most of them also lose their livelihood.

Road accidents, thus, plunge tens of thousands of families in the country into poverty. “Often, the compensation is delayed for years and this only makes their condition worse. Its a double whammy for such families when they have to pay lawyers to fight cases in courts. The new laws in Bihar will take care of all this and provide huge relief by way of quick and enhanced compensation to victims and their families and also do away with the need for the victims (or their families) having to fight for their claims before courts,” said Mishra.

This is why, say road safety experts and NGOs which have been fighting on behalf of victims, Bihar’s new rules should be replicated across the country.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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