Gujarat, Uttarakhand have done it, will others follow?

BJP-ruled Gujarat government reduced on Sept. 10 fines stipulated in the new Motor Vehicles Act; other states, which have yet not implemented the new law, may follow suit

Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Karnataka, three states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the party in power in Centre. The first two have reduced hefty fines for traffic offences under the amended Motor Vehicles Act; the third is in the process of doing it.

After the new Motor Vehicles Act, commonly called the MV Act, came into effect on September 1, many states put brakes on its implementation because of heavy penalties. Most of these states are ruled by the Opposition parties – Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh; Trinamool Congress’s West Bengal and Aam Aadmi Party-governed Delhi – but this also included BJP-ruled states and Telangana ruled by NDA alliance partner, Telangana Rashtra Samithi.

In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat was among the first to put the implementation of the amended Act on hold. The Vijay Rupani government referred the issue to the Regional Transport Office as it found the penalty amounts unfeasible, and after the report, reduced hefty fines for 17 traffic offences on September 10.

A day later, Uttarakhand followed suit. Karnataka is in the process. On the day Uttarakhand government spokesperson Madan Kaushik announced cabinet decision to bring down fines on violations, Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa directed his government to reduce fines along the lines of the decision of the Gujarat government.

“I have directed officials that we must follow the same rules here as well. We might be able to follow through on this in a few days. We will get their order copy and study it and ensure that there is no undue burden,” Yediyurappa told reporters in Bengaluru.

The new penalties in Gujarat and Uttarakhand have triggered public anger and a clamour for a rollback in several states, which implemented the new provisions on September 1 itself.

Odisha, which along with Haryana, has made record collections within the first week of the amended Act’s implementation as a result of higher provisions for challans. On September 10, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik announced partial relaxation for motorists for next three months in order to allow time for preparing all the required documents.

The decision followed mob fury in Bhubaneswar over hefty challans. “The Chief Minister has directed the enforcement agencies not to aggressively go on an overdrive but rather counsel and handhold the public to facilitate compliance with the amended provisions of MV Act,” said a release from the Chief Minister’s office.

On September 7, police in Bhubaneswar ordered lathi charge after hundreds of people detained government vehicles and alleged that government was going easy on its own vehicles while imposing heavy penalty on private vehicles.

From the day of roll-out of the Act on September 1, Odisha has reportedly collected penalty of over Rs 1 crore from errant motorists.

A truck driver in Odisha’s Sambalpur district was fined Rs 86,500 for violating several traffic rules on September 3. The picture of the challan went viral on social media on evening of September 7. The truck was penalised for allowing an unauthorised person to drive (Rs 5,000), driving without a licence (Rs 5,000), overloading with an excess of 18 tonne (Rs 56,000), carrying over dimension projections (Rs 20,000) and general offence (Rs 500).

Last week, a truck driver from Rajasthan was fined Rs 1.41 lakh for several violations, highest under the new Act so far in India. The man was carrying silica sand to a customer in Delhi on September 5 when he was caught. The truck was laden with an extra 15.2 tonnes. Traffic police issued him a challan for Rs 70,800 and a challan of the same amount for the truck owner. The owner said it took him five days to arrange Rs 1.41 lakh and to get his vehicle released from a metropolitan court in Delhi on September 9.

According to union road transport minister Nitin Gadkari, the Act was formed after a committee of state transport ministers, coming from seven political parties, recommended it. “It even went to a standing committee in parliament, which gave its suggestions, and then it was approved,” he said. The Bill was passed by Parliament in July and its steep fines were to come into effect from September 1.

Reactions on Motor Vehicles Act, IndiaSome states pushed it back saying people needed time to get acquainted with the enhanced penalties.

According to the new Act, for driving without a seat belt, the fine is Rs 1,000 as against Rs 100 earlier; for driving while using a mobile phone, it has gone up to Rs 5,000 from Rs 1,000; and for drunken driving it is now Rs 10,000 in place of Rs 2,000.

Similarly, the penalty for driving without a licence has been raised to Rs 5,000 from Rs 500 and of over-speeding from Rs 400 to Rs 1,000. Not giving way to an emergency vehicle is now punishable with a Rs 10,000 fine.

The penalties have increased almost 10 times for some offences – driving without seat belt, drunken driving and driving without a licence – and five times for other violations.

There have been a variety of opinions on the high penalties. Gadkari says the government’s intention is to instill road discipline through them. The minister said they were also needed to prevent loss of lives in accidents. Nearly 500,000 road accidents occur in India every year in which 150,000 people lose lives. “If there is no respect for the law of the land, there is no fear as well,” he said.

Others saw this as an act to burden motorists and to fill state coffers. Punjab transport minister Razia Sultana said that the penalties should be there to “deter people from violating traffic rules”, not to “burden” them or fill the coffers of the “state treasury”.

With reports of heavy penalties being imposed under the new law, there is concern all around. The fear of such challans has resulted in a spike in the sales of helmets, removal of power horns and demand for ‘pollution under control’ certificates.

In some places, such as Delhi, there has been a drop in penalties. Some people say this is because people have becoming more disciplined, but there could be other reasons. With most challans now going to courts, the ‘incentive’ for the traffic personnel to issue them has actually reduced. The fine now has to be paid in court.

The World Health Organization has noted that road accidents are a major public health problem as crashes kill more than 1.25 million people and injure about 50 million people a year, with 90% of such casualties occurring in developing countries.

India, as a signatory to the Brasilia declaration, intends to reduce road accidents and traffic fatalities by 50% by 2022.  The amended Motor Vehicles Act seeks to address issues related to road accidents, third party insurance and road safety measures.

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