In the wake of widespread public outcry over the imposition of hefty penalties for traffic violations under the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, the decision of the BJP-led Gujarat government to cut down the fine amounts by 90 per cent on 17 offenses, has encouraged many other states including those ruled by the saffron party to either dilute the penalties or go back to the old fine system.
After the state governments of Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Karnataka – all ruled by BJP- announced to slash the penalty amounts under the new law, the Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday (September 12) announced that it will relax the fines for now and stick to the old fines.
Worried over the severe dissent seen among public over the new guidelines, the Maharashtra government has put it on hold. The Tamil Nadu government may also be deliberating to follow suit.
Meanwhile, the Centre may pull up the Gujarat government for diluting the penalties under the amended Act, “below the lower limit prescribed in the MV Act” and altering fines that it is not permitted to change under the Act, said a report by the Hindu. The ministry of Road Transport and Highways has sought the law ministry’s views on whether state governments can tweak the lower limit for fines prescribed under the amended law.
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More states join Gujarat bandwagon
Close on the heels of Gujarat and Uttarakhand slashing their penalty amounts under the amended Act, the Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday (September 12) said the government will relax the fines for now.
“We are relaxing the fines for now. We are sticking to the old fines. We will wait for the Centre to give its final nod,” Firstpost quoted Uttar Pradesh transport minister Ashok Kataria as saying.
The BS Yediyurappa government in Karnataka on Wednesday (September 11) announced that it will follow in Gujarat’s footsteps.
Addressing the media on Wednesday after a review meeting, the Karnataka chief minister said he will secure the order copy of Gujarat and try to implement the model in the state while ensuring that the revised penalties aren’t too heavy.
“Regarding the cut in the penalties for violation of traffic rules under the motor vehicle act, we will get the orders of the Gujarat government. I have instructed our officials that we will follow that order here also. Mostly in about two-three days like in Gujarat, here also we will try to cut the penalties that are high,” Yediyurappa told reporters.
While Karnataka’s plan is yet to materialise, the Trivendra Singh Rawat government in Uttarakhand, is the second-most BJP-ruled state to cut down the penalty amounts on traffic violations under the new Act. Customising the provisions according to its requirements, the Uttarakhand cabinet reduced the fine amounts on offenses such as driving without licence, minor driving a vehicle at public place, using mobile phones while driving and unauthorised driving of vehicles among others.
Under the revised rules, the penalty for driving without licence was reduced to ₹2,500 instead of the ₹5,000 mentioned the new Act. Similarly, the fine amount for driving with expired licence was slashed from ₹10,000 to ₹5,000. The revised penalty for using any handheld communication device while driving was cut down to ₹1,000 from ₹5,000.
The BJP-ruled government in Maharashtra on Wednesday (September 11) wrote to Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari, urging the Centre to reduce the traffic fines by making required amendments to the new Act, in view of public outcry over the steep fines. Until it gets a reply from the minister, the Maharashtra government will put the implementation on hold.
“The fines are way too high and beyond the limits of common people. People cannot pay so much fine,” India Today quoted Maharashtra transport minister Diwakar Raote as saying.
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Populist agenda has goaded states like Odisha and Kerala – which had started by enforcing the amended Act with full force – to stall it for some time.
Odisha on September 9 announced a moratorium on implementation of the new rules for three months, following a violent clash between traffic police and irate motorists over the levying of traffic fines. In an official statement the state government said that the chief minister has directed enforcement agencies to avoid an overdrive and rather counsel and handhold the public to facilitate compliance.
“The Transport Department has been directed to augment public services, open extra counters, conduct camps in public institutions so as to enable motor vehicle users to update their compliance status. This process will continue over the next three months so that adequate time is made available to the public to ensure compliance,” the statement read.
“CM @NaveenOdisha expressed deep concern over the public resentment on the enforcement of amended provisions of MV Act & directed enforcement agencies to desist from aggressive overdrive for three months. CM directed agencies to counsel & handhold people to facilitate compliance,” the CMO’s office also tweeted.
In view of Onam festivities and the upcoming local body elections, the CPI (M) government in Kerala recently decided to avoid imposing strict penalties on traffic violators under the new law. Incidentally, Kerala which had been strictly enforcing the new guidelines had collected a fine amount of ₹46 lakh after the enforcement of the amended Act on September 1.
A Times Now news report said the Pinarayi Vijayan government has also reportedly sought legal advice from Advocate General CP Sudhakara Prasad on how to address the rising complaints and concerns against the amended law. A committee comprising secretaries of Law and Traffic departments and Transport Commissioner R Sreelekha has been asked to submit a report on the possibility of relaxing certain penalty rules.
Jharkhand and Haryana, which will have Assembly elections this year, may delay the implementation, said a report by India Today.
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While the Congress-ruled Punjab government has gone back to implementing the old Act, the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal on Wednesday announced that the government will not implement the Act in the state.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the rules of the Act were “harsh” and that the government will instead start a campaign called “Safe Drive Save Life” to sensitise commuters on traffic safety.
States like Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, however, are still toying with the idea.
According to reports, Telangana has formed a committee to study the Act and is yet to take a decision in this regard.
Terming the penalties as “excessive”, the Madhya Pradesh government has put the implementation on hold. The transport minister of Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday (September 12) termed the Act as a ‘Tuqhlaqi’ order, because of its steep fines and said he will discuss the issue with Chief Minister Kamal Nath regarding the same.
“The Central government is arrogant and that is the reason why they give Tughlaqi orders these days. In most of their recent decisions, arrogance is reflected,” he said adding that some parts of the Act need amendment.
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The Act, however, has been successfully implemented in Bihar. The state government has ensured that no one escapes the purview of the Act. In an order dated September 9, the police transport headquarters directed police personnel to wear helmet while riding two-wheelers and seat belts in four wheelers. The order said that officials who do not comply will have to pay double the penalty levied on civilians under the new Act.
While the Uttar Pradesh government is yet to notify the implementation of the Act, the Assam and Tripura governments, have decided to implement it by the next week.
The Centre’s argument
The Centre which has been asserting the necessity of the new amendments to curb traffic violations and bring down the rate of road accidents in the country, has been left red-faced especially with BJP-ruled states diluting the provisions of the Act.
In an interview with NDTV on Thursday (September 12), Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari said the states who are diluting the fines for traffic rules violation, will be responsible for the same.
“To those states who are refusing to enforce the fines, isn’t life more important than money? This was done to save lives,” he said.
In another interview with Economic Times, Gadkari said the Centre’s main purpose was to save like than generating more revenue.
He, however, said that the state governments also have the power to fix the fine in certain capacities, with it being a subject in the concurrent list (in the seventh schedule of the Constitution).