The helmet saga in Pune started in 2001 with the filing of a Public Interest Litigation. Eight city-based petitioners had filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court seeking implementation and enforcement of Section 128 and 129 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
Among the eight petitioners, six were students of Symbiosis College. One was honorary director of an institution which organised health awareness programme and engaged in imparting medico-legal education and other were students of Symbiosis. They had mentioned that they decided to file PIL as one of the students (petitioner) witnessed an incident which they witnessed on August 15, 2001. One of the petitioners was returning to her hostel, after attending a flag hoisting ceremony, where she saw an accident in which a youth of about 23 years of age was seriously injured in a road mishap on the busy Law College Road. Another was moved by this incident and felt that the serious injury sustained by the boy could have been avoided or at least minimised, had he used a helmet. She then narrated the incident to her colleagues and seniors. All of them felt that some measures ought to be taken by the authorities to make wearing of helmet mandatory and compulsory for two-wheeler drivers as well as pillion riders.
By use of such method, harm and damage to national health and wealth could be prevented. Some students, therefore, approached honorary director of the institute and discussed the issued with her. She informed the students about the efforts made by her so that use of helmet is made compulsory. All of them felt that it was inaction on the part of the authorities in not making such a provision and/or enforcing it despite several representations by different organisations and individuals and issuance of several notifications by the authorities. The petitioners then conducted intensive research, collected data of accidental deaths that had occurred us to non-wearing of helmets and proportion of head injuries caused in all such accidents to give a base to public interest litigation.
In the first affidavit dated December 5, 2001 filed by Principal Secretary to the Government, Home Department (Transport and Excise), it was stated; “The State is not opposed to the suggestions made by the Petitioners in the P.I.L. and the State has gone through the suggestions and after applying its mind have issued Notification in this regard applicable to the various districts in the State of Maharashtra”. It was admitted that wearing of headgear was made compulsory under Section 129 of the Act. The State of Maharashtra also issued a notification on 1st October, 2001, amending the existing Rule 250 of the Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 (hereinafter referred to as “the Rules”) by which wearing of protective headgear had been exempted in certain cases.
It was stated that the State Government had selected two districts i.e. Pune and Dhule for making use of helmets compulsory in the first stage. It was also because of the fact that helmet manufacturers were able to supply about 7.5 lakhs helmets to various districts in Maharashtra during the three-month period. It was then stated that “other districts in the State will be covered subsequently in a phased manner”. A press note to that effect had also been issued. Under the scheme, in every phase, extension of a three-month time limit was suggested for the purpose of making wearing of protective headgear compulsory for pillion riders.
After State government’s affidavit and selection of Pune district for making helmet compulsory, Puneites objected to the mandatory helmet for two-wheeler riders and pillon riders. Civic activists, non-government organisation (NGOs) and some political leaders started a mass movement to register opposition to compulsory helmet rule. City-based civic activist Vivek Velankar intervened in the PIL and became one of the parties of the case.
Puneites had started registering opposition openly. They formed groups to protest government’s decision. Some of them were challenging the police by conducting agitations. Posters and banners were placed at major chowks and public areas which was mentioning helmet protest. Puneites made it a prestige issue. They said that the State government’s decision will help private helmet manufacturing companies. After all this arguments, the Bombay High Court gave an order that citizens should follow a rule and government machinery should have implement it.
After strong opposition from Puneites, the State government constituted a committee for effective implementation of road safety and management submitted its report on April 3, 2002 (as per the affidavit of State dated July 31, 2002). The committee consisted of high ranking officials of various departments.
After hearing the representatives of the people about use of helmets by drivers of the two-wheelers in Pune, it was observed that there is a tremendous resistance to making it compulsory as provided under the Act. The committee made a recommendation that the use of helmet by the driver and pillion rider of two-wheeler is in their own interest and it was in favour of making its use and recommended accordingly. The scheme of making use of helmets compulsory was to be implemented in a phased manner. Active participation of two-wheeler manufactures is expected for successful implementation of the scheme. The manufacturers should supply at least one duly approved helmet free of cost at the time of sale of a new two-wheeler.
Both government machinery and Puneites gradually adjusted themselves. The movement had slowed down. In 2004, 2011 and 2016, helmet compulsory issue come to the surface. In August 2016, Transport Minister Diwakar Raote had announced ‘No Helmet, No Petrol’ rule in the state and had put the onus on implementing it on the traffic department. But he had also dithered in the face of opposition and said that the rule would not be forced upon two-wheeler riders, but would be implemented by counselling and creating awareness.
Now, newly joined Police Commissioner K Venkatesham has once again raised the compulsory helmet issue in Pune. Puneites have once again started registering their protest but it not strong as compared to 2001.
Group of city-based students filed PIL
State government submitted an affidavit to make helmet compulsory in the High Court
Pune and Dhule was chosen to implement helmet compulsory
Puneites reacted strongly on the decision
*State constitutes top officials’ committee
Bombay High Court gave verdict to implement law
Once again, helmet implementation drive started in city
Transport Minister Diwakar Raote announced ‘No helmet No petrol’ drive in the state
Pune-based petrol dealers association protested and Raote took a U-turn