[dropcap]L[/dropcap]IKE the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, the recent amendments in the Motor Vehicle Act which brought about a steep rise in fines for traffic violations, have stirred up a hornets’ nest. The ruling party’s own governments in at least five states are defiantly out to water down provisions in the new and more stringent act.
Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari was bravado personified when he went on record to state that he was not afraid of protests. However, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani—who is heading Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah’s home state, Gujarat—apparently did not concur and was the first to cut road fines amid growing clamour for the rollback.
He was followed soon after with dissenting noises emerging from other states seeking reconsideration of the measure and voicing their resolve to slash it nevertheless. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has already declared that she will not implement the new Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act, saying it will over burden people.
News reports point to an auto-rickshaw driver in Orissa being fined Rs 40,000 and a truck driver in Rajasthan over Rs one lakh-all for traffic rules violations.
A citizenry already groaning under a heavy load of taxes and cess on the one hand and the profligacy of government and officialdom on the other has now begun to stridently demand accountability.
As the news of reckless levying of fines streams in from various parts of the country where the full force of the new law has been unleashed on hapless citizens, the mounting public anger has started pushing many states to wade into the concession current.
While states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Goa, Odisha, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Kerala, Punjab and Uttrakhand have already called for reduced penalties, many other states are likely to follow the suit. Goa government has now made it clear that the new rules will only be implemented after all the pot-holed roads are repaired.
Maharashtra transport minister Diwakar Raote has also written to Gadkari, requesting an reduction in the traffic fines. Similarly, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa has also gone on record to state that he has asked for details from Gujarat and will move to water down the fines thereafter. “The state government has the powers to make changes in the fine structure brought out by the Centre in the Motor Vehicles Act,2019,” he remarked.
The main reason for the Gujarat government to slash the traffic fines is also the rising tide of popular disquiet in the state. As social media began reflecting the latent anger and the party’s own feedback confirmed it, the Chief Minister within no time announced that the new rules would take effect only from September 16 as against September 1 and later declared the new watered down rates.
Under the amended fine structure in Gujarat, the penalty for not wearing a helmet is changed to Rs 500, which is Rs 1000 under the MV Act while violations of not wearing seat belts will now invite a fine of Rs 500 as against Rs 1000 in the original rules. Similarly, driving a vehicle without a driving license will attract a fine of Rs 2000 in the case of two-wheelers and Rs 3000 for the rest, as against Rs 5000 under the new rule. If the license, insurance, PUC, RC book is not there, the fine will be as per the new Motor Vehicles Act. For the first time, Rs 500 will be fined and second time penalty is Rs 1000. For riding triples, the fine will be Rs 100 as against Rs 1000 in the MV Act and driving a polluting vehicle has a fine of Rs 10,000 under the new MV Act, whereas in Gujarat it will be Rs 1000 for small vehicles and Rs 3000 for large vehicles.
Popular ire had turned in Gujarat to the basic services with the people demanding a similar fine structure and action against officialdom for pot-holed roads, polluted drinking water , stray cattle impeding traffic on thoroughfares and even goring drivers to death, lack of power or sudden upsurges taking a heavy toll of domestic appliances and hawker laden pavements edging out commuters onto the roads.
Overnight, posters appeared in Chief Minister Rupani’s home town Rajkot while a motor-cyclist pasted copies of all the essential documents on his helmet in Vadodara in a novel way of protest.
While the number of accidental deaths in Gujarat have gone up to 8000 annually, the incidents of traffic cops being beaten up by enraged commuters has also been rising steadily. This is less due to booking of traffic violators and more because of the harassment and ‘extortion’ by bribe seeking cops.
While the new road rules and the draconian fines being levied for traffic and safety violations will arguably overburden people, it’s also apprehended that the implementation of the new rules will only ensure a manifold rise in the appetite of the bribe-seeking policeman and therefore more grease for its top brass.