While the intention behind the deterrent penalties for traffic violations, proposed under the new Motor Vehicles Act, is laudable, the implementation has turned into a messy affair with several States defying the Centre and slashing the quantum of fine. The list of States rejecting the amended Act is growing by the day. What has come as an embarrassment for the NDA government is that the BJP-ruled States like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Karnataka have either slashed penalty amounts in view of the widespread public outcry or put the new system on hold. Though the transport subject comes under the concurrent list, it is debatable whether the State governments have the authority to tweak the lower limit for fines prescribed under the amended law. There is no denying the fact that penalties fixed for certain categories of traffic violations are too hefty to ensure compliance and are beyond the capacity of common commuters. In fact, there is a compelling argument that such a steep hike in fines will only spawn corruption among enforcement authorities instead of serving as a deterrent for traffic violators. Clearly, no effort was made to reach out to the States and build a consensus on the new penalty regime before incorporating the amendments to the MV Act. As a result, there is chaos and confusion in enforcing the new law.
There is already mounting pressure from the States to reduce the fines by making necessary amendments to the new Act in the face of public resentment. Each State now wants to customise the provisions according to its requirements, particularly regarding the traffic offences such as driving without a licence, minor driving a vehicle at public place, using mobile phones while driving, overloading and unauthorised driving of vehicles. The Centre is clearly left red-faced, especially with the BJP-ruled States diluting the provisions of the Act. Though it has justified high penalties on the ground that it would help improve road discipline among citizens, there is a question mark over the future of the new law because almost half of the States are unwilling to come on board. It is also possible that the upcoming Assembly elections could have prompted States like Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Haryana to reject the hefty fines. The larger question remains whether stringent laws alone are enough to check road accidents and ensure road discipline. The focus should be on effective implementation and ensuring total compliance from road users. Terrible road conditions, ramshackle vehicles, dangerous mix of vehicular traffic, untrained drivers and utter disregard for traffic rules make driving on Indian roads a nightmarish experience. Last year, over 54,000 people died in road accidents on national highways alone.