Over–loading by commercial vehicles on the National Highways is a pernicious practice that is known to contribute to a variety of ill-effects such as increased fuel consumption and poor engine efficiency. Besides, over–loading badly damages the precious road infrastructure, incurring huge expenses on the exchequer to maintain the roads and is one of the major causes for the increasing number of road accidents, as per reports. The news that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) proposes to come down heavily on this obnoxious practice by installing weighing machines and other necessary equipment near key toll plazas on a pilot basis should come as a breather to the civic authorities and the general public, who are mostly at the receiving end owing to rampant violation of relevant rules governing loading of vehicles.
The NHAI, in order to curb the practice of over–loading and take stringent measures to curb over–loading, has also proposed constituting a Technical Committee to review the various provisions governing the Model Concession Agreement, User Fee Rules-2008 and Weight Enforcement Stations at convenient locations, approximately 1-2 kms before on either sides of the toll plazas.
As per the relevant statutory provisions, in case a vehicle is found to be over–loaded, the excess load needs to be off-loaded at the cost of the driver or owner of the vehicle in addition to penalty and compounding fee before allowing the vehicle to proceed further. The Supreme Court, in its judgments, has also categorically held that the excess load detected needs to be off–loaded, apart from levying fine or compounding fee, before allowing the over–loaded vehicle to proceed further.
Road transport being a state subject, the responsibility for curbing the over–loading of vehicles primarily rests with the State Governments. However, realising the seriousness of the problem, the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways has been emphasising on states and the Union Territories from time to time the need for strict enforcement of the provisions of law to check the menace.
In fact, the Ministry had taken up the matter with States and the Union Territories on several occasions in the past. Last year, the Secretary in the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways had written to all the Chief Secretaries of State Governments and the Union Territories, requesting them to instruct the enforcement authorities in their state to check the practice of over–loading and send an “Action Taken Report”. Thereafter, several reminders were also sent to them on expediting action.
In response, 25 State and UT Governments including that of Uttarakhand had reported to have initiated action on curbing over–loading in their respective states. The over–loading issue was also discussed in the National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC) meeting held last year in December, which was presided over by the Ministry’s Secretary. It was deliberated that National Highways, being 2% of the total roads, carried 80% of the cargo being plied, either destination to destination or partially.
In view of the heavy stakes involved in terms of road safety, in general, and economic viability and profitability of road transport, in particular, the NHAI should ensure that strict action is taken at the toll plazas, against truckers over–loading on National Highways.