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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

Several states supported high fines in new Motor Vehicles Act before it was passed

The Transport Development Committee, comprising state transport ministers, held five meetings since 2016 to discuss amendments to the Act, and federal transport ministry officials say that no dissent notes were submitted by any state.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2019 06:51 IST
Sunetra Choudhury
Sunetra Choudhury
New Delhi
A commuter walks past the parked taxis during a strike call by United Front of Transport Associations against the hefty penalities for road traffic violations under the amended Motor Vehicles Act, at Nizamuddin Railway Station, in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, September 19, 2019.
A commuter walks past the parked taxis during a strike call by United Front of Transport Associations against the hefty penalities for road traffic violations under the amended Motor Vehicles Act, at Nizamuddin Railway Station, in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, September 19, 2019. (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)
         

A bunch of states have 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, but it emerges that all of them had been in agreement with the Centre on the need for the increased penalties and signed off on the changes to the law before it was notified.

Some states like Gujarat that had reservations over provisions of the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act 2019 had even hosted meetings for other state ministers to discuss issues related to road safety.

The Transport Development Committee, comprising state transport ministers, held five meetings since 2016 to discuss amendments to the Act, and federal transport ministry officials say that no dissent notes were submitted by any state.

Hindustan Times has accessed the minutes of all the meetings, which were held in Delhi, Bengaluru, Dharamshala, Thiruvananthapuram and the concluding one in Guwahati last year, to corroborate the claims. The amended MV Act came into force on September 1 after being passed by Parliament in July this year.

The MV Act increased penalties for a host of traffic violations, including by as much as 500% to 1000% for drunk driving and speeding with fines ranging from Rs 4,000 to Rs 10,000, as it sought to deter unsafe driving in an attempt to reduce casualties in traffic accidents and make Indian roads safer.

“This requires implementation and enforcement because at the end of the day, if you look at the number of accidents, the most vulnerable are the pedestrians. The loss of lives due to accidents is just unacceptable so we need political support for this,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.

Almost a dozen states have opted to enforce lower penalties, or delay their introduction. following a public outcry.

“States have misconception on the law; they have the right to decide the fines for compoundable offences, not the rest. The law went through multiple stages of consultation where all states supported it. After that, it got Cabinet approval and was then introduced in the Lok Sabha,” said minister for road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari.

On Thursday, transporters in some parts of India, including Delhi, staged a strike against the provisions which drew little response.

“Why do people not see the prime reason behind passage of the law is to save lives,” Gadkari said, adding that 55% of the road fatalities belonged to the 18-35 year age group. “Do we not have a responsibility to their families? There is no fear of law in India, that is why we are in such a state.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Gujarat, which was the first state to decide not to go with Gadkari’s pet project, even held a meeting with all state transport ministers or their representatives to discuss this as part of its road safety meeting in September 2017.

“In Vadodara, I went with Gadkariji and they were all there and they were all in agreement,’’ said Younus Khan, who was transport minister in the then BJP government of Rajasthan and head of the Transport Development Committee. “That was where we decided that we can’t have cheap fines. The Gujarat transport minister was there and it was assented {to} by all.”

Gujarat transport minister RC Faldu, when contacted by Hindustan Times, said the state government “never opposed the changes made in the MV Act”.

Explaining the reason for not implementing the prescribed penalties, Faldu said that “following widespread complaints from people about inconvenience in getting PUC [pollution under control certificate] , licence and helmet, it has been postponed”.

In various states like Delhi, there have been queues that last hours just to get PUC certificates and many felt it was because the back-end operation wasn’t put into place before implementation.

On revising penalties under compoundable offences (fines for traffic violations that can be paid on the spot), he said flexibility has been provided in the central law. The minutes of the meeting that was held observed that all members were committed “to look into issues of Road Safety” and no dissent notes were given.

Karnataka is now under a BJP government, which has opposed higher penalties, but the then Congress government in the state had endorsed higher penalties in a meeting in Bengaluru in 2016. The minutes of the meeting notes that on “enhancement of penalties... we propose enhancement of penalties for violation of traffic regulations so that they act as a deterrent.”

Signatories included the transport ministers of Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and also transport commissioner Kamal Dayani of Gujarat. Maharashtra, which has also opposed the amended penalties, also sent its transport commissioner Shyam Wardhane.

Khan is a bit surprised by the complete U-turn made by states now. “Whoever had a problem, we met them personally and sorted it out. The Maharashtra transport minister came for our Dharamshala meeting and again it was discussed there,” he said. “They should have been explaining the logic of higher fines to people and how it saves lives instead of doing their political agenda.’’

Maharashtra transport minister Diwakar Raote said, “I had attended two meetings as the member of the committee formed to discuss the draft earlier and also expressed whatever I had to say then. However, why can’t I react and request the centre to consider reducing the hefty fines following the public outcry?”

Gadkari and his ministry have been trying to convince the states to come on board with heavier penalties, but in the end, it is up to the states to enforce the fines.

“It is the only bill that was passed with a huge consensus after adding all suggestions from states in the select and standing committees. It will be sad if it still doesn’t get implemented,’’ Khan said.

(With inputs from Anisha Datta, Faisal Malik and Hiral Dave)

First Published: Sep 20, 2019 03:06 IST

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