On September 16, after the newly amended Motor Vehicles (MV) Act came into force, people were seen driving with caution even as many wondered if the fines were too steep.
The most worried were those not used to wearing helmets and not updating the Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificates. Sensing the growing opposition, the government relaxed the deadlines for them.
Motorists were cautious fearing police may track them at intersections even as long queues were witnessed outside the PUC centres and helmet sellers made a killing in the last week.
The state government slashed penalty rates in 15 out of 18 violations listed in the MV Act by 50% and 70%, claiming that their intent was not to harass people but implement traffic laws. Days after the announcement, the government further extended the deadline for compliance with the rules regarding helmets and PUC certificates till October 15 and installation of high security registration plates to October 30.
In Ahmedabad, police went easy on September 16 with an aim to create awareness among the public. “People were fearing that we would pounce on them at any given opportunity, so we decided to go easy on the first day and rather focused on creating awareness. However, a fine of Rs 27 lakh was collected in the next two days with a maximum of 622 people being challaned for not wearing helmets in Ahmedabad,” said Tejas Patel, deputy commissioner of police (Traffic Administration).
In cities such as Vadodara, the police penalised as many as 25 policemen for breaking traffic laws. In Panchmahal, a police sub-inspector was suspended when a video of him making traffic violators do “sit-ups” on the road surfaced.
In Surat, the Traffic Police came up with the idea of forming groups of 10 traffic violators and make them take a pledge to obey traffic laws in future. Police officers were instructed to film the entire sequence on their cellphones and share it with their superiors.
“To create awareness, we identified 55 traffic junctions in Surat city where the traffic officers made batches of 10 to 15 traffic violators take oath that they wouldn’t break traffic rules in future. This has been done as part of an awareness campaign. We have also asked the policemen to take photo and share it with me. We have also distributed chocolates and roses to the violators in the city,” said Dr Sudhir Desai, deputy commissioner of police (Traffic).
In Vadodara, police distributed badges which read “I am a traffic sanskari citizen” among people obeying traffic laws, for them to stick it on their vehicles.
“The challenge is not only to penalise erring commuters, but also make them aware about traffic rules. Which is why we had set up public announcement systems and started the first day with penalising police personnel who were found flouting traffic rules. Major difficulty is with people without helmet and those driving on the wrong side which is very frequent. Many ST buses don’t have seat belts which is another issue. In some cases, people don’t have sufficient cash in hand. But they have a provision for paying at the RTO or court after a memo is issued. We are also soon getting a ‘point of sale’ machine which will make it easier,” said DCP, Traffic Police, Andrew Mackwan, Vadodara.
In Rajkot, police offered ‘laddoos’ (sweets) to motorists wearing helmets and also tied ‘rakhis’ on their hands.
“We continuously reach out to people through awareness campaigns. During Ganesh Chaturthi festival, we offered laddoos to those who were wearing helmets. On the occasion of Raksha Bandhan, we tied rakhis while we also experimented with gifting tree saplings among people,” said B A Chavda, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Rajkot.
Chavda added that though he had observed more people wearing helmets after the amendment, the number gradually went down after the government further relaxed the deadline. “After the relaxations in these rules were announced, I have observed a drop in those wearing helmets,” Chavda said.
One such case was that of Hitesh Patel, a resident of Dindoli in Surat, who was caught without helmet by a traffic cop near his house.
Talking to The Indian Express, Patel who works as an accountant, said, “I knew the traffic rules were imposed and the cops had become stricter. We would avoid taking the main road and preferred using streets, but on Tuesday, the police were keeping vigil just round the corner. Fearing a hefty challan, I tried to bribe the policeman, but he declined. It was a tricky situation as I couldn’t figure out what to do. However, I was surprised when the police told me to bring the helmet from home and then take the bike from him. I was happy. If I was penalised, in future I would have tried different ways to evade them. But this policeman’s behaviour moved me. I have now started wearing helmet every time I go out with my two-wheeler.”
In Vadodara, 33-year-old Joshana Rohit was penalised by the traffic police near Tandalja for not wearing helmet and not carrying important documents like RC book, PUC and insurance. Ever since the new Act has come into effect, she has not driven around the city fearing heavy penalties. But citing an emergency, she took a chance on Wednesday evening and ended up paying a fine. “I live with my two children and hardly had any clue about these documents. I had to save a lot to buy a two-wheeler for easy conveyance. I decided not to drive around until this becomes normal. I do not have time to stand in queues and get these documents. Now again I will ride my two-wheeler only when I have all the documents,” Joshana said.
Luck failed 22-year-old Ankit Srivastava, a second-year law student of a private university in Ahmedabad, by just one day. On Tuesday, he got a ticket for not wearing helmet while riding bike outside his university campus. On Wednesday, Transport Minister R C Faldu announced that the deadline for helmets was extended to October 15.
“I was livid when I read the news as I had paid a fine of Rs 500 just a day before. Initially, I was happy that the police will crack down on my friends as well, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now,” said Srivastava.
In Rajkot, Dhwani Mankodi, a college lecturer also learnt the lesson the hard way when she was challaned twice this year.
“The city police issued me an e-challan of Rs 100 in May this year for traffic signal violation. Again, on September 8, I was issued another e-challan for not wearing helmet. These two incidents made me realise that now traffic law enforcement has become stricter. Therefore, I purchased a helmet for Rs 1,100 on September 16 itself,” said Mankodi.
Long queues were witnessed outside PUC centres in all cities in the past one week, even as Faldu announced that the state government will give quick tenders to open 900 extra PUC centres all across Gujarat.
“In the past 10 days, on an average 500 two-wheelers and four-wheelers got PUC certificates from my shop and the queue begins as early as 8 am. However, since the PUC deadline has been extended, the figure has dropped to 250,” said 45-year-old Snehal Patel, owner of Care Automobile in Vastrapur of Ahmedabad.
In Surat, there are 130 PUC centres at the moment, even as regional transport officials are getting permissions to open more such units in order to manage the rush. However, at some PUC centres, over-charging was witnessed. Taking cognisance, Deepsinh Chawda, incharge RTO of Surat, sent his team to Karunanidhi PUC centre in Surat and found that the firm owner was charging Rs 30 from bike owners instead of Rs 20. Chawda then sent a notice to the owner of the PUC centre.
In Vadodara, beeline in front of a PUC centre near a petrol pump in Vasna area has become regular. Jitesh Solanki, who has a small hardware store, said, “I have been standing in the queue for the last two days for more than an hour and then I would give up. Today is the third day and now I have finally got my PUC certificate. And I did not even know that it costs only Rs 25. I feel stupid. Had I known, I would have got it before without having to waste so much time now.”
Rinkesh Raj, a worker at the PUC centre, said, “People have woken up… We have been opening our centre a little early in the morning so that the office-goers can come and get their certificates here.”
“Many people told us that they were ready to pay four times the amount if we let them skip the line. But we cannot do that. It would create chaos,” he added.
In Rajkot, PUC centre operators have reported high growth in business in the recent days. “Till around two weeks ago, I would be sitting idle most of the time. Hardly 30 to 35 people would come to my centre for pollution check. But in the last one week, more than 300 people have turned up. As a result, I have hired four people to help me handle the rush,” said Mahipat Gujariya, owner of Madhuvan PUC Centre on Kothariya Road of the city.
Gujariya said that he charges Rs 20 for two-wheelers and Rs 50 for four-wheelers plus Rs 10 for laminating PUC certificates. “Some two-wheelers which are older than 15 years are failing the test. On Thursday, around five vehicles failed the test. On Friday, I refused to issue certificates to three more vehicles,” he added.
Helmet sellers also claimed to have been making good money in the past one week.
Arun Gupta (28) sells helmets on a cart near Gota flyover in Ahmedabad. He has an unofficial name for his brand of helmets, which he calls “chaalu”.
“I was earlier employed in a garment shop but have now started selling helmets near Gota flyover. The helmets I sell cost around Rs 500-700 and they are not ISI marked. My customers always seem to be in a hurry and their aim is to avoid challan. So they prefer my ‘chaalu’ helmets,” said Gupta.
“There has been around 30 per cent increase in business. Earlier, I used to sell around 15 to 20 branded helmets every day. Over the past one week, this number has gone up to around 35,” said Hardik Patel, owner of Amar Auto, an auto-parts shop near Bhutkhana Chowk in Rajkot.
Patel added that there has been no hike in prices of branded helmets. “However, I am told, those selling non-branded helmets on roadside have doubled their prices,” he said.
However, what was unexpected was the phenomenon of theft of helmets which was recently witnessed in Surat.
Fazal Shaikh, a resident of Bhestan in Surat, on Wednesday, went to pay bill of his mobile phone in a commercial complex at Udhna Darwaja. Fazal had kept his helmet on the steering of his bike and on return, he found it missing. Fazal Shaikh lodged a complaint with the Salabatpura police station on Wednesday evening. Police had through CCTV footage found two youths taking away the helmet from Fazal’s bike.