As many states protested the hefty fines being levied for traffic violations since the introduction of the amended Motor Vehicles Act, it has emerged that none of them objected the increased penalties when a Group of Ministers discussed the matter at multiple meeting held two years ago, The Indian Express reported on Friday.

States like Rajasthan, West Bengal, Odisha and Maharashtra have raised concerns about the exorbitant penalties. Uttarakhand and Gujarat announced a reduction in the fines while Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa has instructed transport authorities in the state to reduce fines for traffic violations. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has refused to implement the heavy fines, and Maharashtra Transport Minister Diwakar Raote and Kerala Transport Minister AK Saseendran wrote to Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari about the exorbitant increase.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yoonus Khan, who had chaired the GoM, said all of them were in agreement with the Centre about the increase in fines. “Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana – no one objected to the fines,” Khan, who was then a transport minister in Rajasthan government told the newspaper. “There was no dissent…All the states were totally on board. Kerala was represented by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at one meeting.”

Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari set up the GoM on March 2, 2016 to examine and recommend changes in the Motor Vehicles Act and the Central Motor Vehicles Rules. It submitted the recommendations in a series of interim reports after every meeting.

On September 10, the Vijay Rupani-led Gujarat government was the first to announce reduction in the penalty amounts for traffic violations after it came into effect on September 1. The records of the meeting state that then Gujarat Transport Commissioner Kamal Dayani and then Gujarat Home Secretary Manoj Agarwal had supported the increased fines at a meeting on May 20, 2016. The interim report of the meeting said: “After detailed deliberations, we propose enhancement of penalties for violation of traffic regulations so that they act as a deterrent”.

21 states represented in the meeting held at least five meeting from April 29, 2016 to April 19, 2018 in five different locations to discuss the provisions of the proposed law. The ministers of BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand were present in those meetings and have now expressed their dissatisfaction with the amended rules. Among the others who attended the meeting were the then Telangana Transport Minister P Mahender Reddy, and Saseendran.

Khan said the states had ample time and opportunity then to raise objections about the proposed law. “States are now spreading misinformation about the law,” he said. “Why would people be bothered about the fines if they followed traffic rules? The provisions are designed that way… In India, more people have died in road accidents than in wars,” Khan added.

Gadkari in a meeting of Transport Development Committee in Vadodara in September 2017 stressed on the Centre’s concerns about increasing accidents and measures needed for road safety in the country. Under Khan’s chairmanship, he had set up another GoM. In its interim report in September 2018, the GoM pushed for “one nation-one tax” for the transport sector.

Nitin Gadkari defends MV Act

Meanwhile, Gadkari on Thursday said he was unable to understand the protests against the Motor Vehicles Act. Commuters across the Delhi were inconvenienced and left stranded on Thursday as several transport unions under the larger banner of United Front of Transport Associations organised a day-long strike to protest against the increase in fines.

At an event organised by the Transport Corporation of India, Gadkari said penalties for traffic violations under the amended act were introduced to save the lives of millions of people.

“There is no fear of, no respect for the law,” he said. “Thirty years back fine for any traffic violation was Rs what could be its value. Moreover this goes into states’ kitty and does not accrue to the Centre. People should not violate traffic law...We have fixed death penalty for people raping a minor girl...Some people can also argue that why the government has brought such law. Law is to prevent such heinous crime.”

The minister said the fines were not to generate revenue or play politics, according to Hindustan Times. “This question is not about politics, not to say that we are playing popular politics, the question is of the safety of the common man,” Gadkari said. “Lakh and a half people are dying annually, and the highest number of road deaths [65%] that occur in India happen between the age group of 18-35 years. It results in a loss of 2% in our GDP.”

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was passed by the Rajya Sabha on July 31 and came into force on August 9. Sixty-three clauses, including the penalty provisions, were implemented from September 1. The legislation also aims to remove corruption, improve road safety and use technology to regulate traffic.

Gadkari had last week asked states not to weaken the new law and claimed that it was “done to save lives”. Road safety experts have praised the Centre for bringing in the changes but urged it to implement hefty fines gradually.

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