With at least three BJP-ruled state governments, including Gujarat, moving to water down provisions in the new and more stringent Motor Vehicles Act, and four Opposition states putting its implementation on hold, the Centre Wednesday decided to seek legal opinion on whether states can dilute provisions in which floor limits of fines are enshrined.
Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said states were well within their rights to reduce fines but they will have to “bear the consequences”.
The new Motor Vehicles Act rules propose a 10-fold increase in fines for offences like traffic violations, drink driving, driving without a helmet, driving without seat belts and overloading. While the fine for drink driving has been increased to Rs 10,000 along with imprisonment up to six months, dangerous driving attracts a fine of Rs 5,000.
“The subject is in the Concurrent list (of the Constitution). States can reduce the fines if they wish. It is not the government’s intention to earn revenue from the fines but to save lives,” Gadkari said. “But they will also have to bear the consequences as saving lives is the responsibility of the Centre as well as States.”
New law risks losing its sting
Gujarat’s move to cut the fines has opened gates for other states too. Opposition states like West Bengal and MP have put the new fines on hold. With states sensing public backlash, the law, which took four years to clear, risks losing its sting.
Gadkari said that a fine of Rs 5,000 now was equivalent to what Rs 500 was 30 years ago when the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 1988 was passed. He also said Indians don’t seem to mind strict traffic rules when they go to other countries like the US but have no regard for rules in India.
“What was the value of 500 rupees 30 years ago?” Gadkari said in an interview to NDTV. “I have seen people driving away laughing even as the traffic policeman keeps blowing his whistle. There should be fear and respect for the law.”
Equating the spirit of deterrence in the new Act with that of “punishment for rape of a minor girl”, Gadkari said that saving lives on the roads was of paramount importance.
Incidentally, the Vijay Rupani-led BJP government in Gujarat Tuesday lowered fines by up to 90 per cent and the BJP-ruled Uttarakhand government reduced penalties under the new law. And while the Karnataka government will approach the Centre for permission to reduce the penalties, Opposition-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Punjab put the new rules on hold.