PM Modi dispensation at the Centre pushed the amendments in the Motor Vehicle Act

Mumbai / New Delhi: By softening the penalties on traffic violations, Gujarat has not only embarrassed the Modi dispensation at the Centre which had pushed the amendments in the Motor Vehicle Act, but also set a bad present for other BJP-ruled states like Maharashtra and Karnataka, which are threatening to follow suit with similar tweaking of the law.

While Karanataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa announced on Wednesday that he will be studying the Gujarat model of revised traffic fines, Diwakar Raote, Maharashtra Minister of Transport, has sent a missive to Union Minister for Road and Transport Nitin Gadkari requesting reduction of fines.

Couching the request in niceties, the letter says the amendments in the Motor Vehicle Act are commendable from the standpoint of road safety. However, there is a public outcry over the steep hike in fines and the central government is requested to reduce the same by making suitable amendments in the legislation. “I am not opposed to the Act. But the fines should not be beyond the reach of the common man,” Raote said while speaking with media.

The minister caught in this crossfire is Nitin Gadkari who on Wednesday made out a strong case for steep fines for traffic violations, a day after his own party’s government in Gujarat slashed those penalties.

"This isn't a revenue generation scheme; are you not worried about the deaths of 150,000 people every year?" the he demanded.

‘‘For those states which are refusing to enforce fines, life should be more important than money. The amendments have been made to save lives," Gadkari told NDTV in an interview.

"People need to have a fear of law. Why was the death penalty for rape introduced after the Nirbhaya case? To create a fear of the law," he explained, answering his own question. Pressed on whether he could force states to fall in line, Gadkari remarked: "Jisko karna hai kare, na karna na kare.’’

The Law and Judiciary department has conveyed to the Maharashtra government that while implementing the Act, they have limited scope to reduce the fines.

“Where there is a fixed single amount, the state cannot change it. But for fines which are in a band of minimum to maximum, the state can fix the fine at the lowest level.

The ripple effect is being felt elsewhere too: Congress-ruled Rajasthan and MP, Trinamool-ruled Bengal, AAP ruled Delhi and Left-ruled Kerala are also having second thoughts on the hefty fines.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is categorical that she will not implement the new penalties on traffic violations. In all fairness, the TMC had opposed the amendments in the Motor Vehicles Act in Parliament, too, on the plea that it will hurt general people.

On Wednesday, of course, Mamata was emboldened by Rupani’s decision to declare that the penalties were "too harsh" and against the federal structure of the government.

Adding that money is the not solution, Banerjee said that the problem needs to be looked at from the "humanitarian point of view".

Congress-ruled Rajasthan too is treading carefully in the matter and Rajasthan transport minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas had said earlier this month that they may reduce the fines.

"The centre can pass a law. But we can review it... we cannot do away with the fines completely but we can reduce them at least," Khachariyawas had reasoned.

Under the new rules, the fine for riding a two-wheeler without a helmet has been upped to Rs. 1000 from Rs. 100. Using cellphones while driving can invite a fine between Rs. 1,000-5,000 - up from Rs. 1,000.

For drunk driving, the fine has been hiked from Rs. 2,000 to  Rs. 10,000. Speeding will result in a penalty anywhere between Rs. 1,000 and  Rs. 2,000.

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