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Draconian Traffic Laws And The Aam Aadmi

Draconian Traffic Laws And The Aam Aadmi

The amended Motor Vehicles Act is getting murkier with every passing day!

The news that the BJP-ruled Gujarat government has announced a drastic cut in the penalties for traffic violations even as the Centre is justifying the steep fine amounts under the amended Motor Vehicles Act does come as a whiff of fresh air for the public unduly worried over the prospects of such rules taking firm roots in a system that is already ‘enriched’ with enough avenues for corruption.

Taking a cue from Gujarat, Goa’s Transport Minister has hinted at reducing certain steep fines brought in by the new Motor Vehicles Act.

It is now heard that Karnataka CM too has decided to adopt the drastic cuts in the harsh fines imposed a la Gujarat. With news that Bengal and Maharashtra will not implement the amended MV Act, it is as if the entire nation has risen up in arms against the Centre vis-à-vis the new bill.

The Union Road Transport and Highways Minister’s statement that states have the authority to revise fines further confuse matters.

However, the very fact that many state governments have thought the better of antagonizing the aam janata and have decided to look for assuaging factors to combat the rigidities of the amended Act makes it more than evident that the Centre has not taken the states into confidence while formulating the revisions.

Besides, what purpose does a bill serve if it is not implemented uniformly across the country on the specified date!

The Motor Vehicles (Amended) Bill, 2019 seeks to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 to provide for road safety. The Act provides for grant of licenses and permits related to motor vehicles, standards for motor vehicles, and penalties for violation of these provisions.

Rules pertaining to road safety and safe driving have existed for decades now. It is just that the vehicle owners are rather flippant about them and manage to evade prosecution by coughing up the paltry fines. So the fear of fines never really ‘induced’ them to correct their faulty ways on the roads.    

Hence, the new penalty amounts under Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 2019, while mindboggling, has instilled the fear of the law in people. It however needs to be said that the amended Act that aims to draw everyone and everything related to vehicles and road use into its ambit is hindered by its own inconsistencies.

If the mad rush of vehicles turning up at pollution checking centres across the country for PUC certificates is any idea of this new-found fear, then it is pretty clear that many of the motorists on road are without the mandatory documents and thus directly violating the traffic rules.

So it would seem that without the government raising penal apprehensions, the public would never adhere to the rules of the road, preferring to have their writ running large over the pathways and thoroughfares across the country.

At most of the times, it is the spontaneous more than the voluntary reflexes that prepare an individual to be compliant with the laws of the country. Frankly speaking, no one has ever willingly complied with all the statutory rules laid down.

The decision by the  Pramod Sawant government in Goa to keep on hold implementation of the new grossly enhanced fines notified by the Centre under the Motor Vehicles Act until repairs to pot-hole ridden roads in the state are taken up post the monsoon, is apparently a resolution endorsed by vox populi.

The demands by the Opposition leader to defer the enactment of the new laws till basic infrastructure is made available to the public for safe, secure and smooth driving, and the safety of pedestrians is ensured also played an effective role resulting in the sudden volte face by the government vis-à-vis the operational dates.

Just the other day the Transport Minister was on record saying that it was not possible to co-relate the matter of the hiked penalties and the repair of ‘crater’ infested roads as they were entirely different issues altogether.

But then, imposing fines for traffic infringements on roads entirely unfit for commuting is unheard of either! With the sort of thoroughfares which actually do not deserve any road-tax to be paid for, the search for a date to ratify the new legislation defies logic.

In all fairness, Goa needs to have good motorable roads before the administration can even think of imposing the punitive Act in the state. The coexistence of ‘back-breaking’ roads and laws is just unheard of!

The locals are perfectly justified in their demands for a postponement of the unnerving MV Act, at least until such time that the authorities settle their commuting woes.

But having said that; their conditions notwithstanding, driving on the Goan roads has not been without its share of calamities either! A harrowing experience to say the least, the rickety ride and the traffic-senselessness of the motorists has always complimented each other making every outing on the Goan roads an unforgettable one.

Demands for better roads should be substantiated by evidences of good conduct by the road users. Unfortunately, this never seems to happen! Unruly behaviour on the roads is a perennial problem and the state authorities have had their hands full tackling the menace on the roads.

Without the law department giving its nod to the draft notification empowering enforcement agencies to compound traffic offences, the implementation of the amended MV Act stipulating the steep traffic fines may take longer than expected.

However, with uncertainties looming large over the quantum of fines that would be imposed for various violations vis-à-vis the amended Act, it would be appropriate to have an awareness drive conducted by the traffic authorities explaining various nuances about the bill to the public and lay to rest various apprehensions they may have over it, before it is implemented in toto. 

The competence of the enforcement agencies too will prove to be a stumbling block in the effective execution of the Act.

Traffic personnel need to refrain from doing everything by the book. The need to actually differentiate between an offence and an oversight should gain precedence in the normal course of events. As traffic monitors, they are in the best position to judge who should be fined or let off with a stern warning.

It is finally all about understanding and interpreting the law in its true spirit on the basis of which enforcers will fine the erring parties. Hence it becomes pertinent that the traffic authorities are given meticulous training on the matters related to the amended Act before they are deputed on field.

The administration on its part should be cautious about burdening the traffic enforcers with an authority that far exceeds their limited knowledge.   

While there may be umpteen excuses to discourage the implementation of the Act enhancing fines for traffic violations, there are an equal number of valid reasons to give the new legislation a go, if only to minimize the risks on our roads!  

(Published on 30th September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 40)