The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, which has been criticised for its steep penalty system, is now being reconsidered by several states including BJP-ruled ones, days after it was enforced.
The reluctance that some states earlier showed towards implementing the Act, has now changed into determination to either chuck it or tweak it according to the convenience of the public. Many of the latter states have asserted that they will enforce the rules, diluted or not, only after conducting awareness programmes on traffic guidelines among commuters. Some of these states have formed committees to study the Act and make necessary changes.
While the exorbitant nature of the fines have been an irksome issue both for governments and the common man, many state governments have questioned the feasibility of escalating the fine amounts manifold, instead of gradually increasing it. Others have insisted that the imposition should have been preceded by awareness programmes on traffic violations, to sensitise and mentally prepare public on the new regulations.
According to sources nearly 12 states including Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Telangana are yet to implement the law in its entirety.
While Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Telangana have diluted the penalties, states like Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Maharashtra are yet to take a decision on the new law.
Gujarat does a U-turn
Setting an example for other states to follow, the Vijay Rupani-led BJP government in Gujarat on Tuesday (September 10) cut down on fines on 17 traffic offences under the new Act. While the new Act stipulated a fine of ₹1,000 for riding without a helmet and driving without wearing seat-belt, the Gujarat government trimmed down the fine amount to ₹500. Also, the government brought down the fine for driving without a licence from ₹5000 to ₹2,000 for two-wheelers and ₹3,000 for four-wheelers.
Claiming that the Gujarat government was not showing leniency to traffic violators by reducing fines, Vijay Rupani pointed out that penalties fixed now are still up to 10 times of that charged before the new Act came into force.
Tamil Nadu may amend law
The Tamil Nadu government will be next to Gujarat to relax norms under the new Act. Sources say senior officials plan to cut down on penalty rates while the chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami will give a go-ahead for 23 amendments and cut down on penalty amount.
Odisha makes amends
A few days after a clash broke out between traffic police and a group of motorist over the levying of fines under the new Act, the BJD government in Odisha on September 9 announced that it will write to the Centre seeking amendments in the Act.
Taking matters into its hands, the BJD government on September 6 relaxed the rule for possession of pollution-under-control (PUC) certificates for three after facing huge outcry against its strict implementation by the authorities since its enforcement on September 1, to enable people to comply with the traffic norms.
Punjab goes back to old act
The Punjab government meanwhile has gone back to its penalty system under the old act.
“There is no denying the fact that traffic rule violation is the major cause of road accidents which claims innocent lives every day and commuters must be hammered down to comply to the traffic rules, but at the same time citizen must not be reel under the burden of huge penalties. For the time being the provisions of the amended Motor Vehicle rules would not be applicable in the state,” Indian Express quoted state transport minister Razia Sultana as saying.
Earlier, when the state was examining the feasibility of the Act, SS Chauhan, Punjab’s additional director general of police (traffic) had said that the state had powers to make amendments to the law, as the enforcements was related to the state. He had asserted that the main idea of the should be to “deter people from violating the traffic rules, not to increase the state treasury”
Telangana forms panel
The state has formed a panel to study the Act, recommendations of which would be sent to the transport minister and chief minister for approval. While any decision on the implementation is awaited, the Hyderabad police has stepped up campaigns to educate public on the guidelines under the new act.
70% drop in penalties in Delhi
Although the Delhi government hasn’t opposed the Act as vehemently as the other states, a report by The Wire said there has been a 70 per cent drop in penalties, pointing towards a relaxed penalisation process.
Meanwhile, transport minister Kaislash Gahlot on Wednesday (September 11) said the Delhi government wants to provide respite to people from steeply hiked penalties under the amended Motor Vehicle Act and will take a “conscious” decision on it. He said the government is taking feedback from the stakeholders and looking at how other states are moving on it.
“We are taking feedback from all stakeholders. If the need is felt that penalties should be reduced we will take a conscious call. We want to give respite to the people,” Gahlot said in a press conference.
He said out of 61 offences under the amended act, there are 27 on which state governments have no say. However, in the case of remaining 34 offences, the state governments concerned can exercise their discretion, he said. The minister said various steps have been taken to help vehicle owners in view of rush for pollution under check certificates.
Earlier, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejiriwal had stated that “states do not have discretionary powers” in the implementation of the Act.
Onam discount in Kerala
Kerala which so far had been among the states that had diligently enforced the new laws (collecting a whopping ₹46 lakh in fines from violators so far) recently decided not to impose heavy fines on traffic violators in view of Onam festivities. A report by Times Now News said that a verbal order has been passed during a high-level meeting convened by the police, where it was decided that penalties should not be imposed on drivers and riders if they violate traffic rules under the new law. Other reports said the decision was taken in view of the local body elections.
West Bengal implements act partially
The Trinamool Congress-ruled West Bengal government has decided to “partially” implement the act and has sent it to its Advocate General for his opinion. The state transport minister said only mandatory provisions have been implemented, said a report by The Wire.
The Congress-ruled stated which received the highest fine – a whopping ₹1,41,700 after implementing the new motor vehicles Act – is now mulling to ease the heavy fines. Rajasthan Transport minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas has commented that the decision was made in “haste” and that the penalties should have been fixed according to the financial capabilities of citizens.
Can states tweak rules?
In response to the scepticism of many states over the new law, the Centre has said that they were free to make changes in the penalties under the Act.
“Firstly, the Motor Vehicle Act is in our concurrent list, in which both state and Centre governments have the right to formulate the law. Fines vary as per violation, and states have the right to take the decision,” Union minister of Road Transport and Highway Nitin Gadkari said on September 11.
Experts, also, say that states do have the power to take a call on penalties, especially compounding offences, under the law.
“There are 24 offenses under the law where the states can decide the penalties and the central rules remain the upper limit. States can technically nullify them to even ₹1. The remaining penalties cannot be contested,” a Hindustan Times report quoted Piyush Tewari, CEO of Save Life Foundation, an NGO working towards road safety. However, these compoundable fine rates need to be notified by state governments for the police to collect it. Meanwhile, offences such as drunk driving are non-compoundable in nature on which a city court has to take a call, the report stated.
According to a report by Hindustan Times, there are 24 offences under which the states can decide the penalties and the central rules remain the upper limit.