9 months on, Delhi traffic police yet to refund fines
Nearly nine months after the Delhi traffic police accepted there was a technical fault in the setting of speed detection cameras on the Meerut Expressway (National Highway-24) and announced the reversal of around 1.50 lakh wrongly issued fines, the department is yet to repay at least Rs 8-10 crore that was collected from commuters.
While the police moved a proposal to work on returning the fines in October after the issue was brought to their notice, senior traffic police and transport department officials confirmed that they could not find any provision under the Motor Vehicles Act through which the money collected as fines could be returned.
Between August and October last year, the Delhi traffic police wrongly fined at least 1.50 lakh commuters on the Meerut Expressway, between Millennium Park and Ghazipur, for speeding above 60kmph even though the speed limit signage on the stretch indicated a limit of 70kmph. After several commuters who were issued fines raised the issue with the Delhi traffic police and threatened to move court , the department conceded its error and agreed to reverse the fines, saying that the speed limit boards were incorrectly placed by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). The 1.50 lakh commuters include only those who drove or rode between 61-70 kmph but were fined because of the camera’s incorrect speed calibration.
Nine months after this incident, several affected commuters are still awaiting a refund. The department’s estimates show that commuters paid a total of nearly Rs 8-10 crore as fines before the matter was brought to notice of the top traffic police officers. The commuters were issued fines of Rs 1,000-2,000 for each “offence”.
Senior traffic police officers familiar with the matter said the wait could prove futile as there is no provision under either the old or the amended Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) to refund a fine that has already been collected .
A senior traffic police officer, who did not wish to be named, said: “There was an internal file that was moved within the department to make provision for those who were wrongly fined on the stretch, but nothing came of it. There is no provision under the MV Act to refund fines. The only ones who benefited from the reversal were those who did not pay the fines.”
The official added that several meetings conducted between October and December between the police and Delhi government’s transport department to find ways to refund the amount came up with no solution.
Amar Singh, a 43-year-old resident of east Delhi’s IP Extension, said that he was fined twice for “speeding” on the stretch, once on August 25 and the second time on September 3, last year, and given 60 days each time to pay the fines. “So, basically the people who abide by the law and paid the fine on time are the losers now? ,” he asked.
Singh and three of his neighbours, who were also fined on the stretch, plan to approach the courts.
“It wasn’t just us; according to the traffic police’s own admission, 1.50 lakh people were wrongly fined and they are keeping the money unlawfully. If there is no provision for a refund, is there a provision to keep unlawfully collected fine money?” Singh added
NHAI officials said that when the matter first came to light, the traffic police wrote to the department asking that the speed limit on the stretch be lowered to 60kmph. However, the request was denied because the speed limits were set and the signage was put up as per the prescribed norms.
“We told the traffic police back then that the speed limits of expressways cannot be similar to the city’s. The limit of 70kmph was decided only after coming to a consensus with the traffic police because the earlier limit was 100kmph. The cameras have been re-calibrated according to our signage now,” said RP Singh, who was heading the Meerut Expressway project for NHAI at the time.
Rohit Baluja, a road safety expert and president of Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE), said that if it is the traffic police’s responsibility to prosecute commuters for breaking the rule, they must also reimburse a wrongly collected fine with interest.
“They must come up with the means of repaying the commuters that were wrongly penalised,” Baluja said.
He also pointed out that every day, hundreds of fines are wrongly issued to commuters because of faulty cameras, improper road signage and unclear markings, but no one is held responsible.
Delhi traffic police chief Taj Hassan did not respond to multiple calls and messages seeking comment.