Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Mr. Nitin Gadkari, the Road, and the transport Minister has ideally initiated the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 to fortify his countrymen from Road Accidents and to foster them to strictly adhere to Road and Traffic Rules. He said, "The most important initiative taken by us this year has been the enactment of the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act 2019 which, inter-alia provides for a stiff hike in penalties for traffic violations."[i] Our Nation has only partly acknowledged the passing of this Amendment Act and the author herein scrutinizes the reasons for the same.
THE IDIOSYNCRASIES OF THE BILL:
The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 is the principal Act and it was enacted to give effect to the suggestions made by the Supreme Court in M.K. Kunhimohammed Vs P. A. Ahmedkutty[ii]. The Act was amended several times to keep pace with the updation in technology. There are numerous changes brought in by the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019. A briefing of the features will help us understand the conundrum behind absolute implication. This act amended several sections and inserted several other sections in the Principal Act. The amended sections provide for substitutions of wordings, increased imprisonment periods and steep penalties for violation of road rules. The insertion of sections in the Act is noteworthy because of its innovative approaches to safeguarding people. Section 2B promotes innovation. Section 25A subsumes all State Registers of Driving Licences under the National Register of Driving Licences. Section 130A permits Electronic monitoring and enforcement of road safety. Offenses related to registration are governed by section 192B. Sections194A, 194B,194C, 194D,194E and194F are added to curb nuisance on the road by use of honks, not pulling the vehicle offside to give way for service vehicles and for violating other rules of safety which primarily includes wearing seat belts improperly. Sections 199A and199B are inserted to govern offenses committed by Juveniles. Section 210A, 210B, 210C, and 210D enlists the power of the Central and State Governments to make rules and specifically governs the power of the state to increase penalties. The insertion of section 211A facilities the use of electronic forms and documents in this regard. Section 215A of the Bill, 2019 provides for the constitution of a National Road Safety Board which would render advice on all aspects of road safety and traffic management. It further mandates the Central and State Government’s power of delegation. Lastly, the setting up of “Motor Vehicle Accident Fund” is proposed by way of insertion of a new section (164B) under chapter 15 of the bill. It seeks to provide insurance to all the road users to meet the needs during medical emergencies and also for awarding compensation for the victims of road accidents. Other provisions of the Act include protection of “Good Samaritan", cashless treatment during golden hour, provision of third party Insurance, automated fitness testing for vehicles, the introduction of the provision for recall of vehicles, etc.[iii]
Undeterred by its significance, the bill was still objected by millions of people. Gujarat was the first state to resist its implication. It deviated from the proposed bill by contradictorily imposing a lower base rate for fines. It was contended that it sought to revamp transportation rules via hefty penalties. Uttarakhand and Karnataka have followed Gujarat’s model wherein they significantly cut down the penalty rates. Bihar has implemented the amended Act with a different aspect of policing altogether. Rajasthan has implemented it only partially. The states of Maharashtra and Jharkhand opposed the bill and stated that it was not in the interest of the public. Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Tripura have not shown the green signal yet. Chhattisgarh and Punjab have put the Act on hold. Madhya Pradesh Government said it would effectuate the Act only by reducing penalties. The chief detractor of this Act was the chief minister of West Bengal; Mamata Banerjee made it clear that her government will not implement the new Motor Vehicle Act. Kerala initially implemented the Act but is likely to follow the Gujarat model. The Odisha government took a different stand and has announced a moratorium for three months over the implementation of the Act. Delhi and Haryana were the only states to implement the Act and it was welcomed by protests and agitations. Tamil Nadu has proposed to implement the Act partially and thereby it has taken into consideration 26 clauses of the Act to prevent fatal accidents.
It is evident from the aftermath of the Act’s implication that it’s being heavily criticized for the penalties base rate. The general public has overwhelmingly welcomed the trailblazing approach of the Act to stricture fatal accidents and to monitor road and safety rules but the problem is with the amendments made to the clauses that lead to exorbitant penalties. The chief aspect here is that the income of the people is not in proportion to the level of penalty imposed. The acceleration in their income level is sluggish owing to the present economic trend. Though our economy is claimed to be the fastest-growing one, government figures revealed that its growth was slow in three quarters at the beginning of the year. Mr. Arvind Subramanian, an economist, argued that India’s economic growth rate was originally 4.5% but the government claimed it to be 7%[iv]. His methodology is open to criticism but little attention can be paid when we consider the rate of unemployment in our country which is precisely 6.1% according to the reports released by the Periodic Labour Force Survey of the National Sample Survey Office. The growth rate in GDP is a deviation because sufficient scrutiny must be given to the per capita real income of an individual. Senior Advocate Harish Salve diverted the reasons for the slowdown in the economy to the apex Court’s decision in the 2G spectrum case where it knocked down billions of dollars of foreign investment.[v] The elements in the economy justify that the steep penalty cannot be equated with the income level and this allows us to see the lacunae in the present Act. The State Governments did not implement it for the same reason. “Why should criminals be maintained at the cost of taxpayers?” is an argument for retaining the death penalty. Similarly, “why the victims should be compensated at the cost of all the fine payers from the Fund?” The individual solely responsible for the crime should take the entire responsibility is another criticism of the Act. Though the Act has got significant approaches, the penalty clause brings it down and that is where the real antagonism is. If that particular aspect is amended again, the Act is a gem.
Hike in penalties will not bring down the accident rate since it’s only an ancillary measure. When we let money speak louder than it has to then there are chances for the rich to escape because paying more is no big deal for them. The right measure is not just increasing penalties but increasing the quality of drivers and the roads they drive on. Comparisons help us define our standard and accelerate us from being better to being ‘the best’. Beginning with, Sweden, it adopted a ‘Vision Zero’ policy which focuses on zero loss of life. For this, they design a better road system rather than altering human behavior. Singapore uses ‘advanced warning lights’ that transmits to the driver the upcoming traffic lights and also allows him/her to monitor the speed limit. Switzerland’s strict rule on ‘drink driving’ that makes liable not just the driver but also his/her accompanies is the need of the hour. Japan constantly researches to create a safer infrastructure and traffic management systems and the list goes on. As we can see, a parallel to the hike in penalties for the safety of the public cannot be drawn and that is the drawback of the Act. Fining is an attribute of the Deterrent Theory of Punishment; it hardly deters or merely deters an individual from committing the same crime. The author advocates the attributes in the Reformative Theory of Punishment which is reflected both in the Constitution of India and in the International Conventions dealing with human rights.[vi] Considering the antagonism for the Act we have to combat it with not just innovative approaches in road safety but innovative techniques in building roads. The death toll resulting from accidents has gone up. We have lost lives, we see the laments of their family members and we know that we cannot make it up for the loss. So, let’s invest our ideas in building proper roads, efficient road management system and frame rules that will regulate the overall transport system rather than shouldering individuals with hefty penalties.
[i] Research Wing, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways Transport, New Delhi, https://morth.nic.in/motor-vehicles-act-1988-0.
[ii] (1987) 4 SCC 284.
[iii] Supra [i]
[iv] Mihir Sharma, India's economy is in crisis after reduced GDP estimate, THE ECONOMIC TIMES (Jun. 14, 2019, 10.17 a.m), available at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/indicators/view-indias-economy-is-in-crisis-after-reduced-gdp-estimate/articleshow/69766125.cms.
[v] Writ Petition (Civil) NO. 423 OF 2010
[vi] Shyokaran And Ors. vs State Of Rajasthan And Ors, 2008 CriLJ 1265
Sastra (deemed) university
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