UP: Tractor-trolleys Turning Into ‘Killing Machines’; Kasganj Tragedy Only One Accident Among Many

In Uttar Pradesh, tractor-trolleys are fast turning into “killing machines”. The Kasganj tragedy, which left 23 including women and children dead on February 24, is a glaring example that highlights the apathy of the state transport department and the police in ensuring the implementation of directives prohibiting the use of tractor-trolleys for commuting purposes.

The illegal use of tractor-trolleys in UP has claimed more than 70 lives in the last two years and the numbers are on the rise.

‘Their cries went silent’

In Kasganj, the tractor-trolley was carrying at least 54 pilgrims when it fell into a pond near Gadhai village. Police said the incident took place around 10 am on the way to the Ganga river, where the pilgrims were going to take a holy dip on Magh Purnima.

Some eyewitnesses called it the most tragic sight of their lives. “It is tough to be described in words. It all happened in seconds. We first heard a loud noise, after which the tractor-trolley lost control and went straight into the pond before getting overturned. On hearing cries, we rushed to the site for rescue but the trolley could not be lifted and the people stuck beneath gradually went silent. People died in front of us and we couldn’t do anything. The scene will be etched in my mind forever,” said Ajay Gupta, a local resident.

‘Lost my son on his mundan’

Out of the many who died, a majority were from Banar, Kheriya and Rorhi villages in Kasganj district. “We were going to celebrate my son’s mundan, along with my wife Sapna, mother Pushpa Devi and grandmother Shakuntala on the banks of Ganga. I had never imagined that this will turn out to be the last day of their lives,” said an inconsolable Gaurav Singh, who lost his son, mother, wife and his grandmother in the incident.

A look at accidents before Kasganj

The Kasganj incident is not the only such to be reported in the state. In 2022, a similar and major accident took place in Ghatampur area of Kanpur district. At least 26 people were killed as the vehicle carrying 50 people fell into a pond near Saad village.

Here’s a list of recent tractor-trolley accidents in UP:

February 2024: Earlier this month, too, two people were killed and more than 20 injured as a tractor-trolley carrying 26 people fell into a ditch near Shuklapur village in Hardoi district.

August 2023: In Saharanpur district, nine people were killed as a tractor-trolley carrying 50 people overturned in the high current of the Dhamola river in Tajpura area.

June 2023: Three people were killed as a tractor-trolley carrying more than 20 people for a marriage procession overturned in a pit along the road near Van Bishanpur village in Chandauli district.

April 2023: Another tractor-trolley tragedy struck 12 people on their way to Garra river, who were killed when the vehicle overturned near Birsinghpur village in Shahjahanpur district.

Decoding the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988

S Mohammed Lawyer, a senior advocate with the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court, while expressing concern over the issue said there is an urgent need to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.

“It is a matter of great concern that tractors are still considered light motor vehicles (LMV) and come within the purview of the definition of LMV as defined under Section 2(21) of the act. It states that ‘light motor vehicle means a transport vehicle or omnibus the gross vehicle weight of either of which or a motor car or tractor or road-roller the unladen weight of any of which, does not exceed 7,500 kg’. However, by no means does a tractor fall in the LMV category and, hence, the driving licence for it under this category, is flawed. Driving a tractor mandates a higher skill set, warranting a proper and thorough test,” he said.

‘Tractor-trolleys meant for carrying agricultural material only’

Also, according to the act, tractor-trolleys are not meant for carrying people. “The MV Act 1988 in its section 2(b) states that ‘agricultural tractor’ means any mechanically propelled four-wheel vehicle designed to work with suitable implements for various field operations and/or trailers to transport agricultural materials. Agricultural tractor is a non-transport vehicle,” the lawyer said.

He added: “It further states that the “agricultural trailer” means a trailer generally left uncovered with single/double axle construction, which is coupled to an agricultural tractor by means of two hooks and predominantly used for transporting agricultural materials.”

What does the UP Motor Vehicle Rules, 1998 say?

The Section 172 of the Uttar Pradesh Motor Vehicle Rules, 1998, states that “no trailer manufactured in India and intended to be used as a transport vehicle shall be registered unless its design is approved by the transport commissioner”.

The section deals with locally manufactured trailers, their specifications and design. The sub-rule 4 of the same section adds that the transport commissioner may, by notification, publish in the official gazette, lay down standards, design, specifications, and calculations in respect of all or any particular type of trailer.

No trailers registered against 18.5 lakh agricultural tractors in UP

Transport department officials said most of the time, the registration is often not secured for these trailers from the regional transport office (RTO). Data shows that at least 580 trailers are registered for commercial purposes in the state against 10,400 commercial tractors.

When it comes to agricultural tractors, the situation is even worse. The state does not have a single trailer registered for agriculture despite having 18.5 lakh agricultural tractors.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath has made an appeal to people not to travel in tractor-trolleys. After the 2022 accident, he had directed officials to ensure that tractor-trolleys or trucks were not used for travel. He had also appealed to people to strictly follow safety standards, as travel by tractor-trolley and truck was unsafe. Besides, he had also called a high-level meeting of the state home and transport departments on road safety.

Soon after that, directions were also issued to superintendents of police across the state to coordinate with district magistrates, gram pradhans and panchayat secretaries to publicise the dangers of travelling in tractor-trolleys.

However, nothing much has been done since.

“We have launched a statewide drive to raise awareness on not using trailers for commuting purposes in order to avoid Kasganj like tragedies in future,” said additional transport commissioner (road safety) Pushp Sen Satyarthi.

“It’s because of the tractor-trolley I lost four family members. I appeal to people not to travel in tractor-trolleys, which are also the cheapest mode of transport available in the rural pockets. I humbly request the UP government to introduce an adequate mode of transport in the rural parts, so that such accidents can be averted,” said Gaurav Singh.

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