Centre tells states to fall in line over traffic penalties, packs in a warning
Gujarat government had announced reducing steep fines for traffic violations that was cleared by Parliament in the amended Motor Vehicles Act last SeptemberUpdated: Jan 06, 2020, 21:25 IST
State governments do not have the powers to alter the penalties stipulated for traffic violations in the Motor Vehicles Act, the Centre told the states in a terse advisory on Monday. It also underlined that the Centre could invoke its powers under Article 256 to direct them to fall in line if they do not back down and implement the law enacted by Parliament.
The amended MV Act increased the penalties for all traffic violations. In case of some offences such as drunk driving, the hike in penalties ranged between 500% to 1000% in an effort to discourage unsafe driving and reduce casualties.
The transport ministry advisory was triggered by the Gujarat government’s announcement to reduce steep fines for traffic violations that was cleared by Parliament in the amended Motor Vehicles Act last September.
Several other states had proposed to emulate Gujarat and amend the penalties listed in the central law, provoking the Centre to ask the law ministry if the states had the powers to tweak penalties in the first place.
In a letter sent by the transport ministry to all states on Monday, which has been reviewed by Hindustan Times, the transport ministry pointed to the opinion of the Centre’s top law officer Attorney General KC Venugopal that makes it clear that states cannot amend any provision of law passed by Parliament unless the state gets the President to sign off on the changes.
“Ministry of Law and Justice has tendered their advice after seeking opinion of Attorney General of India. The Attorney General has inter alia observed as under:- The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (as amended by The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2O19) is a Parliamentary legislation, the state Governments cannot pass any law/ take executive action to lower the penalty fine below thot prescribed under the statutory provisions of the Motor vehicles Act, unless the assent of the President is obtained to such state law,” it said.
“The next question that arises is as to the powers of the Union of lndia in case of the failure of the state governments to implement the amending act in accordance with its own terms. Reference for this purpose may be made to Article 256, which authorizes the Union of lndia to issue directions to a State as may be necessary for that purpose. The disobedience of these directions could well attract the provisions of Article 356 of the Constitution of India, and one could therefore proceed on the basis that the central laws would implicitly be obeyed by the state Governments,” he wrote.
A bunch of states had balked at enforcing sharply higher fines prescribed by the amended Motor Vehicles Act for traffic violations, ranging from riding a bike without a helmet to driving under the influence. Almost a dozen states opted to enforce lower penalties or delay their notification. following a public outcry.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Gujarat, was the first state following the passage of the law to say that it would not implement it. Though, to be clear, it did notify the law in its state. However, Gujarat was the first state to reduce the fines and had overshot its jurisdiction to give certain exemptions, such as not making helmets necessary for pillion riders, Hindustan Times had reported in September last year. The transport ministry had then said it will go through “legal scrutiny.”
“The objective of MV Act, 2019 inter alia for enhancement of penalties for offences is ensuring greater compliance and enhancing deterrence for violation of traffic rules which is intended to provide for better Road safety resulting in reduction of accidents and fatalities on the roads. It is requested to implement the provisions of the MV Act, 2019 ,in light of the observations received through the Ministry of Law,” the ministry wrote.
The new penalties came into effect on September 1 but several governments, including Delhi, are yet to notify the new rates. India is a signatory to the United Nation’s Brasilia Declaration with the target of reducing road fatalities by 50% by 2020.