India will set up an agency that will have powers to recall cars suffering from engineering defects, modelled on the lines of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US, a government official said. Engineering defects in most new-generation cars have been on the rise in recent years, raising safety concerns and sometimes forcing manufacturers, such as Honda Siel Cars India and Maruti, to call back vehicles voluntarily. However, manufacturers have escaped government scrutiny in the absence of any legal framework.
“We are contemplating a national-level body that will govern the technical and safety aspects in the fast-growing sector that is expected to double in the next five years,” said department of heavy industries joint secretary Ambuj Sharma.
The National Automotive Board, which will begin operations in a few months, will be a single-window authority overseeing the country’s automobile industry, addressing safety issues ranging from crash-testing of yet-to-be launched models to certification of all types of vehicles. The proposed board would also look at commercial vehicles, though recalls in this segment are rare.
“There is no legal framework to address safety and other consumer issues pertaining to vehicles manufactured and sold in India, which the National Automotive Board will try to address.” In the past there have been cases where manufacturers, as in the case of Maruti 800, have re-engineered their cars sold to customers, but stopped short of calling the exercise as a "recall" in the absence of any statutory mechanism or policies.
The board also would oversee critical issues of crash testing of cars, which has been delayed in the absence of proper facilities in the country. All these tests--frontal and side impact--are mandatory in developed markets like Europe, Japan and the US and were supposed to be enforced in India by 2012, but have now been pushed back to beyond 2014.
India witnesses the highest number of road fatalities in the world and the absence of UStype bodies has failed to check the rise in such incidents. According to government data, around 1.42 lakh people died in 2009 because of driver negligence and defective vehicles.