‘Fines for safety, not revenue; states can make cuts’: Nitin Gadkari

Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari on Wednesday defended the recent increase in traffic fines, even as West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee joined Gujarat in announcing that her government will not implement the revised penalties to save people from the additional burden.

Chief minister of Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Karnataka, BS Yediyurappa, also indicated in Bengaluru that his government may revise the penalties after getting the Gujarat government order. In Maharashtra, which is ruled by a coalition of the BJP and Shiv Sena, state transport minister Diwakar Raote said the revised fines were not being implemented immediately as he had requested the Centre to reconsider them.

Gadkari’s remarks came a day after Gujarat said it was reducing fines on 17 traffic offences, becoming the first state to dilute the new penalties that have triggered calls by several states for a rollback of the amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act.

On Wednesday, the Delhi government said it wanted to provide respite to people from steeply hiked penalties and will take a “conscious” decision on it. Transport minister Kailash Gahlot said the government was looking at how other states were moving on it.

Asked about the moves by the states on the increased road fines, Gadkari said: “We haven’t done this [amendment] to augment revenue. We have done this to save lives. If state governments want to reduce it [fines], they are welcome to do so.” He said that the number of deaths caused by road accidents was the highest in India.

Parliament passed amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act in its previous session, raising penalties in some traffic offences by as much as tenfold. The new penalties came into effect on September 1 but several governments, including Delhi, are yet to notify the new rates.

“First of all, the MV Act comes under the Concurrent List. Both state and central governments have a right to make laws on it. As for the fines, there is a gap, like from ~10 to ~100. So, the state government can take a decision in this regard. It is not the government’s intention to earn revenues through fines,” the Union minister said, adding that the Centre had “received a very positive response” on the revision of fines.

In an interview to television news channel NDTV, however, the minister asked whether life wasn’t more important than money for the states “refusing to enforce the fines”.

The transport ministry is considering seeking legal opinion on the states deciding to reduce the fines, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity.

Delhi transport minister Gahlot said on Wednesday that out of 61 offences under the amended act, there are 27 on which state governments have no say. However, in the case of remaining 34 offences, the state governments concerned can exercise their discretion, he added.

“We are taking feedback from all stakeholders. If need is felt that penalties should be reduced we will take a conscious call. We want to give respite to the people,” he said at a press conference.

The minister said various steps were also being taken to help vehicle owners in view of rush to get Pollution Under Check (PUC) certificates, adding that the daily rush at PUC centres increased from an average of 15,000 to about 45,000 vehicles every day since September 1. Under the new law, driving without a PUC certificate or with an expired PUC certificate invites a penalty of ~10,000.

“We have taken some measures to decongest these centres. Our bus depots and terminals will be open for public for PUC checks from 11am to 7pm,” he said.

The Aam Aadmi Party government will open more PUC centres for which it has invited new applications, an official said, asking not to be named.

Joining the list of states who have expressed concerns over the revised fines, West Bengal CM Banerjee said the new fines were “too harsh” on the people. “We are not implementing the amended Motor Vehicles Act right now because our government officials are of the opinion that if we implement it, then it will be a huge burden on the people. It is very harsh,” she said.

Odisha, Kerala, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Telangana have also indicated that they will reduce the penalties, while some states such as Uttarakhand and Maharashtra are still scrutinising the new law. Assam and Himachal Pradesh have said that they will continue with the tougher fines.

Karnataka chief minister Yediyurappa, who represents the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said a cut in penalties in the state was imminent. “Regarding the cut in the penalties for violation of traffic rules under Motor Vehicles Act, we will get the orders of the Gujarat government. I have instructed our officials that we will follow that order here also. Mostly in about two-three days like in Gujarat, here also we will try to cut the penalties that are high,” Yediyurappa said.

Protesting the government’s move to increase the fines, activists of the Congress’s youth wing staged a demonstration near Gadkari’s residence in the national capital. Indian Youth Congress (IYC) president Srinivas BV said they tried to gift two old motorcycles and scooters to Gadkari to make him realise how people were being forced to pay fines that were higher than the value of their old vehicles.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said there were two parts in the MV Act amendment. “…One is a mandatory, non-derogable part. The non-derogable part relates to drunk driving, you cannot change it by state level, it relates to some other serious offences, like I am running you over deliberately or grossly, negligently hitting you in the car. I don’t think those should be liable to alter at the state level. The second part is things like slight over speeding or over packing your car or over loading your car etc. that part is liable to be changed by states.”

The state governments’ move to oppose the revised road penalties has drawn criticism from some road accident survivors and victims’ family members, who have called for rapid implementation of the amended law instead of succumbing to “political and commercial pressure”.

Harry Singh, a research scholar who was paralysed from waist down after a motorbike accident, said: “I don’t understand why state governments are not implementing this act. Why are people focusing on higher penalties? Is the life of a citizen not important?” He was speaking at an event organised in New Delhi by road safety NGO SaveLIFE Foundation.

Source : Hindustan Times

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