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Taming Wild Drivers

Goa must enforce high penalty regime to save human lives on roads

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has said that his government will consider implementing the newly amended Motor Vehicles Act providing for heavy penalties for violations only after carrying out a ‘comparative study.’ This is an indication that the high penalties–which the ministry of road transport decided to impose in order to reduce the number of accidents and human casualties–would not be implemented in Goa any time soon. Goa has joined other states that too have shown reluctance to enforce the new rules. Punjab, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which have non-BJP governments, have said that fines are excessive. The states where the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power have not said so in clear terms. High penalties have been introduced because low penalties have failed to deter drivers.

More than a lakh lives are lost annually in the country due to accidents owing to the violations of traffic rules by drivers. The drivers who follow rules have nothing to fear, whether the penalties are low or high. It is the drivers who do not follow rules who are scared by the new rules.

The Goa government’s delaying approach would only embolden the drivers who habitually do not follow traffic rules. The Chief Minister or Transport Minister must not forget that every day one person dies in Goa in a road accident. So every single day of delay by them is going to cause one death. Who are they trying to protect? They might end up dampening the spirit of transport department officials who were ready to enforce the new rules from today. Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho’s statement that he would seek the opinion of officers of his department on the new rules has no meaning, as the state government has no power to modify or reduce the amounts of fines provided for in the new rules. His department has no option but to impose the fines mentioned in the new rules. All that the minister’s statement is going to do is to rouse the spirits of the habitual violators of traffic rules and not those of his officials whom he otherwise advises to implement rules in a strict, efficient, quick and lawful manner. 

Perhaps Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari needs to intervene in Goa and other states that are seeking to delay implementation of the new rules. His ministry has made it clear that the 63 clauses of the newly amended law do not require framing of new rules by states and can be directly implemented. The major states which have enforced the new rules by notifying compoundable offences in totality are Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana. According to the amended MVA, there are 24 offences that can be compounded and paid on the spot. The violators need not be taken to court.

The state transport department has to notify the officials who can compound the offences and collect fines on the spot. These officials have the option to charge an amount of fine appropriate to the crime for some offences where the new rules the fines could be “upto” to a certain amount, and “not less than” and “not more than” a certain amount.

The Goa government should not delay enforcement of the new rules. The central government  has established a uniformity in the law relating to traffic violations across the country in order to redress the complaint of penalties being low in some states and high in others. High penalties are aimed at preventing accidents and saving lives. One of the most important principles of statecraft since ancient times has been instilling fear in the minds of violators and potential violators to prevent crime.

The imposition of high penalties by the Union transport ministry is informed by the same principle. Low fines and lesser non-financial penalties have not served the purpose of reducing the number of accidents. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho must realize the danger of delaying enforcement of the high penalties and ask the transport department to go ahead with their enforcement. They should ask the transport and police departments to general mass awareness of the high penalties at the same time. 

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