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Why Maharashtra lagging behind to issue compounding notification

22 Oct, 2020

Traffic Police – (gesturing with hands) “Stop, take your vehicle aside.”

Civilized Driver – (with a serious face) “What is the matter Sir?”

Traffic Police – (pointing at the road) “Hey, two-wheelers are not allowed on this road, you’re in no-entry.”

Civilized driver – “Is it so? If so, where’s the no-entry board? ” (Looks around to see one).

Traffic Police – “Look, it’s over there.”

Civilized driver – (gets agonised) “How will the drivers see a board that is blocked by a tree?”

Traffic Police – (shirking responsibility) “I don’t know that, but you have to pay fine for violating no-entry rule.”

Civilized driver – (regretfully) “Sir please! I am on my way to office, it’s getting late. It was the first time I ever made such a mistake, please excuse me! I will never make such a mistake again.”

Traffic Police – (in a firm tone) “No excuses will do here, you will have to pay the fine”.

Civilized driver – (despairingly) “Well, okay, how much is the fine?”

Traffic Police – “Five hundred rupees.”

Civilized driver – (raising eyebrows) “OMG! Five hundred rupees? ” “ Sir, keep this Rs. 100 and no need to give a receipt.”

Traffic Police – (heavily) – “Ah, you can’t do that. The fine is paid online.”

Civilized driver – (pleadingly) “Reduce the amount Sir! Five hundred is a lot.”

Traffic Police – “The fine is fixed amount decided by the government, we can’t do anything about it.” “Give your Card for payment, I’m late too.”

Civilized driver – (helplessly) “Take this! This fine is just too much.”

Traffic Police – (offering advise) “This is your Card. And remember not to enter a no-entry road again! Thank you.”

One often comes across such roadside conversations between a defaulter driver and a traffic police. The vehicle riders are unwilling to pay the fine, be it Rs. 5 or Rs. 500, and argue with the police. Some are even smart to lengthen the argument and take it to the court.

Knowingly or unknowingly, traffic rules are violated. According to the Motor Vehicles Act, a person who violates traffic rules is punishable under the law. This punishment can be in the form of fine, imprisonment or both. Most of the time, police are seen taking action on the roads against the violations such as non-observance of red signal, encroaching zebra crossings, driving without a license, talking on mobile while driving, etc. Each law provides for punishment for various offences. By law, the police or appointed officers are entitled and empowered by the law to enforce the rules strictly. However, the police can only charge you with a crime. The police do not have the power to decide whether a person is guilty or not, which is the job of the judiciary. On the basis of circumstantial evidence and the alleged statements of witnesses the court decides whether a person is guilty or not.

Let us briefly understand the traffic rules. Millions of traffic rules are violated on various roads every day. It is almost impossible to punish practically everyone. We do not have enough police force to do so and it is also intricate to take each and every violator to the court. This process is time consuming and expensive. Therefore, the Motor Vehicles Act provides for the compounding of such offences by imposing fines on the road itself. Less serious traffic violations include disobeying traffic signals, talking on the phone while driving, encroaching zebra crossings, and so on. Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious crime. To prove this crime an evidence is needed to corroborate the allegation that the driver was driving under the influence of alcohol. This crime cannot be compounded on the street or on the spot. For this, court procedure is necessary to decide whether the accused guilty or otherwise. Less serious crimes, however, are compounded on the street itself. The offender hereby, acknowledges that s/he has committed a crime and is therefore willing to pay the fine as per the rules. If the police and the offender agree, the person is allowed to leave immediately after paying the fine. Such provision is also made in other laws like Tobacco Control Act, Plastic Carry Bag (Production and Use) Rules 2006, etc.

Sometimes, when the accused persons feel that they have not committed the crime and are being unnecessarily harassed or framed by the police, they can appeal to the court and prove their innocence.

Over one and a half lakh people die in road accidents in India every year. Having 14,000 deaths in road accidents last year (NCRB, 2019), Maharashtra ranks the second in the country in terms of deaths by road crashes. In view of this problem, and to reduce the number of deaths in road crashes, the Central Government passed an amended Motor Vehicles Act in August 2019. Prior to that, the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 was in force, which, according to experts and practitioners, was too old and ineffective to reduce the number of road crashes and deaths. Therefore, the Ministry of Roads and Highways passed an amended law in Parliament. The penalty for traffic rules was increased fivefold as per the amended law, as the fines in the previous law were thought to be insufficient to deter the violations. Since the growth per capita income of persons in the last three decades, a meagre fine amount failed to be a deterrent. People would take the fines seriously only when they would feel a pinch while paying it, thereby they will be more observant and this will reduce the traffic violations and crashes. This Act is passed by the Central Government and is application across the country.

The Motor Vehicle Act, Section 200, provides for settling down a number of traffic violations on the road or on the spot itself. This is to save the time and resources of the citizens, police as well as the court, while at the same time inculcation of discipline among the people.

Although the law is enacted by the central government, it is also the responsibility of the state governments to implement it. The state government has been given the power to determine the specific traffic rules and the amount of fines and has authority to take independent decisions in this regard. The state governments have been given leeway to decide upon the amount for the compounding penalty, in a manner that the amount should not be too high to exceed the amount prescribed by law and it also should not be too small to lack the strength to fulfil its intended purpose. State Governments may issue notifications on the basis of this Act. By notification, the list of traffic rules, the amount of penalty for violation and the designation of the officer imposing the fine are mentioned in writing.

One year has passed since the Central Government passed the revised Motor Vehicles Act. The Maharashtra government has not yet issued an updated compounding notification. Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Assam, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand have issued notifications, but Maharashtra state government do not yet seem to have seriously thought about this. If the amended law is to be implemented directly, Government of Maharashtra needs to issue a notification, otherwise the law will have no edge in reality and will exist only on paper, like other laws. To instill discipline amongst motorist and to ensure they abide by the traffic rules, it is necessary to issue the notification immediately and increase the amount of the fine. It is equally necessary to enforce the rules consistently and take visible action. In the absence of enforcement, the fines will have no effect. On the other hand, even the amount of the fine is less, but the action is consistent and visible, it will lead to change and improve people’s behavior.

The health system in the state of Maharashtra has collapsed due to the high prevalence of COVID-19. Maharashtra alone accounts for 30% of the country’s total infections. As a result, there is a shortage of doctors, nurses and medical staff. If the stress on the health system should be reduced by minimizing road crashes and fatalities, radical changes must be made immediately. The Maharashtra State Government needs to take immediate steps in this regard.

Hon’ble Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari worked hard to ensure the passage of the Amendment Bill and it is an irony that it is taking so long to issue a notification in his home-state. Mr. Gadkari also assured to reduce the number of road traffic death by 50% by 2030 at the Stockholm Conference 2020. He recently stated that this goad could be met even as early as 2025. By taking cognizance of this commitment and also to save lakhs of people from road crashes, the concerned ministers in the State should take an immediate decision and action.

In order to reduce the number of people killed in road crashes in India, it is not just enough to have a Central Act in place, the states have to play their part as well. Mr. Nitin Gadkari has also appealed the states to take steps in this regards. By passing the amended law the central government has already taken an important step, but if the state government fails to issue the notification, we will not be able to achieve the expected results in terms of road safety. If the state governments continue to look at this issue only from a political point of view and keep delaying in taking the appropriate steps, road crashes will continue to occur ending people’s lives unnecessarily.