If the government stays firm on its determination to go ahead with the amended traffic rules and if the traffic police implement these rules in the right earnest and in its true spirit, Indian roads will be much safer than what they are today.
The new rules in the Motor Vehicle Act, which came into effect from September 1, are a bitter pill India must swallow. Increased fines for traffic violations have seen mixed reactions: some have welcomed the move, while many have objected to it.
There is hope that the new traffic laws will act as a great leveller where every motorist will be treated at par — dampening these hopes are reports that preferential treatment being meted out to VIPs. There is hope that the new rules will make commuting on Indian roads a safer experience — at the same time many states and unions have raised a banner of revolt against it.
Reports have come in on how a motorist in Delhi, on being fined Rs 16,000, set his motorbike on fire. Another commuter who was fined Rs 23,000 decided to abandon his bike and buy another one. To save time each time he was asked for the required documents, an ingenious biker in Gujarat stuck the documents on his helmet. Another motorist in Puducherry stuck the documents on his bike. There has been a massive jump in the number of vehicle insurance policies being taken.
This is a good sign: on one hand it’s frightening to realise that all this while so many vehicles did not have the requisite papers, on the other it shows that people are willing to follow the law if it is implemented in right earnest. The additional revenue to the government is also a welcome corollary.
While citing the above, how can one not turn to the ubiquitous Uber/Ola driver! From election results to weather forecasts, and from the state of India’s economy to religion and morality, journalists have turned to drivers to know the ‘pulse’ of the nation. I too had conversations with drivers on the new rules and its effect. What a driver brought to my notice and what I found surprising was that most of the vehicles were respecting traffic signals and were rarely crossing the stop line at a traffic light. Anyone who has travelled by road in our metros, especially in Delhi/NCR, would agree that this is a big achievement!
The Modi government is celebrating the new Motor Vehicle Act as an achievement within 100 days of it coming back to power. However, it’s too early to celebrate it. The dark clouds of resistance are growing. Many states, mainly non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states have raised objections. In Odisha, after commuters protested against the heavy fines being levied on those violating traffic rules, the Naveen Patnaik government decided to relax the rules for three months.
Members of 41 transport associations under the banner of the United Front Transport Association (UFTA) have threatened to go on strike on September 19.
Reacting to the new traffic rules and fines, PC Sharma, a minister in Kamal Nath’s Cabinet in Madhya Pradesh, said that it would be difficult to implement the new law because the public had to be sensitised about the new law. He also said that at time ministerial recommendations are sought for avoiding petty fines, such heavy fines would make life difficult for ministers. The absurdity in those statements cannot be overlooked. Why is it a norm for ministers to recommend or interfere in normal policing activity? Shouldn’t the law apply equally for every citizen, and perhaps those in power should lead by example? Perhaps that is why Union Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari thought of it as important to mention at a press conference that he was also fined for overspeeding.
The next concern is whether this momentum can be sustained to ensure that a thorough clean-up of Indian roads is done.
That said, there are concerns that will continue to remain. Seldom do the traffic police prevent a violation of the law. Instead, usually traffic cops hide on the side of the road and jump in front of vehicles once they have broken the law. Now such officers are armed with a more powerful law which can be misused. Will the law apply to all, equally on the lawmaker and the common man?
If the government stays firm on its determination to go ahead with the amended traffic rules and if the traffic police implement these rules in right earnest and in its true spirit, Indian roads will be much safer than what they are today.For more Opinion pieces, click here.Get access to India's fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code "GETPRO". Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.