With more states contemplating a reduction in penalties for traffic rule violations, the Road Transport and Highways Ministry has sought a legal opinion on whether the states can reduce fines below the minimum penalty fixed in the amended Act, an official said.
BJP governments in Gujarat and Uttarakhand have already announced reductions in fines, which have risen steeply in the amended motor vehicles law, while Uttar Pradesh government is mulling to reduce the penalties.
Post imposition of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, from September 1, hefty penalties by police for breaking traffic rules have hit the headlines.
"We have sought an opinion from the Department of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Law and Justice whether states are empowered to reduce the penalties below the minimum fine fixed under the amended Act," an official told PTI.
The official said that the letter seeking clarification from the Law Ministry has been sent on Wednesday after reports of reduction in fines from states.
"Once we get clarity from the Ministry of Law whether the states have the power to reduce fines below the floor penalty fixed, we will take appropriate step based on their reply," the official added.
Elaborating, the official said that under the amended Act, where the penalty for traffic offences mention "fine of up to", the states can decide on penalties but where there is a fixed fine, penalty, as per the provision, could not be lowered.
The Act also provides that offences under various categories can be compounded and for these state governments can notify quantum of penalty.
Under non-compoundable offences, the violator has to visit the court to pay challan and states cannot fix a fine lower than the penalty notified by the Centre.
The Uttar Pradesh government has said that it is considering a reduction in the new penalties for breaking traffic rules in the interest of the people.
The move follows similar decisions by other state governments, reluctant to accept the high fines specified under the Central law including the BJP governments in Gujarat and Uttarakhand which have announced reductions in fines.
The Uttarakhand cabinet has also cleared a proposal to reduce some of the penalties revised by the Centre for traffic rule violations under the amended Motor Vehicle Act.
Opposition-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal have also refused to implement the new law.
Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari has defended the increase saying it was not for revenue generation but to save precious lives and has added: "First of all, the Motor Vehicles Act is in the concurrent list. Centre and state governments have the right to make laws in this regard...and they'll (states) take decision what they consider is appropriate."
He has said: "If they (states) want to reduce the fines let them, but the lives of people should be saved and there should be fewer accidents. There has to be awareness over this."
India accounts for 5 lakh road accidents annually in which 1.5 lakh people die and another 3 lakh are crippled.
Under the amended Act, violations such as drunken driving attract a fine of Rs 10,000 and/or imprisonment of six months to two years.
Penalty for driving without a licence was increased from "fine up to Rs 500 and/or imprisonment which may extend to three months" to "fine of Rs 5,000 and/or imprisonment which may extend to 3 months" under the amended Act. Not wearing a helmet while riding a two-wheeler can now lead to a fine of Rs 1,000 and disqualification for licences for three months.
Gadkari has said that there should be no fear of hefty "challans" if someone is abiding by the law.
"Why is this fear of challans if one is following traffic rules. People should rather be happy that India's roads will become safer like abroad where people strictly abide by traffic norms. Is human life not precious," he has told PTI.
He has said stringent rules were "much needed" as people had taken traffic laws very lightly and there was neither fear nor respect for the law.
"I am sensitive to this issue. Ask the family members who have lost someone near and dear in road accidents. 65 per cent of the road accidents victims are in the age bracket of 18 to 35 years, ask their families how they feel. I too am an accident victim and it is a well-thought-of step with consent from almost all political parties whether Congress, Trinamool or TRS," the minister has said.
He said there are people who have not even been once fined as they follow traffic norms asking why others cannot emulate them.