MOTOR VEHICLES AMENDMENT ACT: UNLEASHING A NEW LEGAL TERRORISM
Article by Vishal Rajvansh,
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 which came into effect from 1st September 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 15, 2019, by the Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Mr. Nitin Gadkari. The Act intends to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 to provide for greater road safety provisions. With around sixty-three clauses of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, coming into effect from September 1, the Centre seems to be well equipped with a watertight mechanism to tackle road accident issues. However, the only predicament blocking the way of the Indian Legislative here will be the successful implementation of the Act. The Act aims at stricter punishment for violation of traffic regulations and to bring discipline on roads is going to be the source of huge public outcry. The bone rationale of the Legislative behind introducing this Act is road safety, a major question that has put every stakeholder in a state of a dilemma if at all levying hefty fines will reduce the percentage of accidents happening around the nation. With the fines suddenly witnessing an exponential increase, the citizens (mostly middle-class families) have found themselves embroiled in deep waters especially when the fines tend to surpass their monthly income. Interestingly, many state governments including the BJP-ruled Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka have stalled the implementation of the fines for the next three months and have been insisting on revising the same. Some of the states have even formed committees to study the Act and are looking for ways to tweak it around. The Motor Vehicles Amendment Act has paddled into controversy with multiple states alleging the Centre of burdening the common man with heavy fines.
Augmentation of Fines – A subtle shock
The government has notified sixty-three provisions of the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act 2019, including the ones dealing with enhanced penalties for various traffic offences. The new rules have enhanced the penalty for drunken driving to imprisonment up to 6 months and/or fine up to Rs 10,000 for first offence and imprisonment up to 2 years and/or fine of Rs 15,000 for the second offence. Besides, the penalty for driving without a license has been increased from up to Rs 500 to Rs 5,000. Similarly, a fine of Rs 1,000 as against Rs 100 has been mandated for not wearing a seatbelt at present. Notably, the over-speeding penalty has been increased from Rs 400 to Rs 2,000. At the same time, if a person permits a minor to drive, the owner of the vehicle will be liable to pay a sum of Rs 25,000 with three years of imprisonment. The under-aged person will also pay a fine of Rs 5,000 or imprisonment up to three months.
The act also lays down a provision that if a disqualified person drives a vehicle or applies for driving license, imprisonment up to three months or a fine of Rs 10,000 shall be levied. Under section 196 of the Motor Vehicle Act, 2019 driving without Insurance will be fined Rs 2000. Under section 194 D of the act; riding without Helmets will be fined to Rs 1000 and disqualification for 3 months for licence. Under section 194 E of the Act; not providing a way for emergency vehicles will cost Rs 10,000.
Implementation of Amendment – Not a walk in a park
The new fines and penalties for breaking traffic laws have caused quite a furore. There’s literally panic among many vehicle/bike owners after implementation of Motor Vehicle Act 2019 which not only has the provision of stringent regulation of traffic rules but also imposing hefty penalties for violations. The Amendment seems to be shedding off the skin of the common people from day one of its implementation. In a noteworthy instance, Delhi police issued 3,900 challans to various violators on the first day of the implementation that is 1st September 2019 itself which made a huge outcry in the State.
Notably, in sheer antipathy of the new rule, many states labelling it inordinate and overweening, has not implemented the rule yet. States like Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Rajasthan refused to implement the present vehicle act whereas the Gujrat government expressed reservation on high fines that may not be feasible. The reason behind such a huge failure in the successful implementation of the Amendment Act is nothing but its incapacitated ambitions and hap-hazardous birth in the system. The purpose this Act has managed to serve yet is to choke common people to bereavement by rendering their financial status decidedly unstable.
The unresolved issues – A Mission yet to be achieved
The provision for hefty fines is bound to bring some respite to the victims but certain unaddressed concern makes this stipulation susceptible to criticism. Notably, fines surpass the Per Capita Net National Income during 2018-19 which is estimated to be ₹ 1,25,397 i.e. the monthly per capita income would be ₹ 10,449 which makes the financial status of India’s population crystal clear. The fines being imposed don’t commensurate with monthly income of the people. Although the intention behind the legislation cannot be doubted, the purpose seems to be blurred with people feeling the whip so hard as to have a bearing on their monthly income if subjected to such fines. Such concerns make the all imperative purpose of the enactment diluted in the long run.
While it is exceedingly imperative to maintain the traffic discipline, imposing heavy fines will lead more to corruption than safeguarding road safety. Every government office is a den of corruption, but it is on the roads the people pay bribes most often. With the corruption on the road by traffic police being already at alarming levels, the amendment has empowered them with a new tool to fill in their pockets. As the fines have increased, traffic police have increased the bribe rates too. Notably, the corruption issue has started plaguing in the system as eight officers have been caught taking a bribe in Chandigarh, and it is just the inception of the smoothly paved way to corruption. Earlier this month a biker took to Facebook to complain about harassment by a traffic constable resulting in the constable's suspension. Inopportunely, the posts on a website called “ipaidabribe.com” speaks loud about how bribing on the roads has become a way of life.
The Amendment Succumbing to the Proportionality Test
Proportionality entails scrutiny into the relationship between a restricting measure and its objective. To advance its legislative policies, Parliament confers a discretion on statutory bodies. The exercise of executive discretion is subject to judicial review.
The proportionality test is more and more applied when there is a violation of human rights and fundamental rights. Levying fines more than income is a violation of basic rights. Proportionality works on the assumption that administrative action ought not to go beyond what is necessary to achieve its desired results. It is the duty of the state to preserve law and order. Proportionality might be subsumed under the head of an irrationality where a decision is so disproportionate that it could be said to be irrational in that no reasonable authority could have come to such a decision. The Amendment which imposes more fines than the Country’s per capita income can surely be called irrational. Interestingly, a study suggests that fines sought to be income based as one-size-fits-all fines fail to meet basic goals of the justice system. A mechanism should be created to treat like offenders alike, punish the deserving, and encourage respect for the law. A system that tailors fines according to income, by contrast, would help to ensure that every person experiences a proportional penalty when they run afoul of the law.
While it is undoubtedly a much-appreciated step to change road behaviour and improve road safety, it also has the potential to hamper the entire financial stability of a low-income family, not to mention India’s majority of the population living under basic sustenance levels. It does not seem reasonable to levy a fine which is more than the price of the vehicle a person is riding. Unfortunately, the legislation by imposing such hefty fines without giving any alternate remedy is disturbing the balance of convenience meaning this amendment does more injury than providing safety or relief.
Astoundingly, the cause of road accidents is recorded as a ‘fault’ of a road user disregarding the condition and management of road facilities. This procedure ensures that 80% or more of the cases get attributed to ‘human error’ and there is no place for understanding crashes as a result of a host of factors including the vehicle, road, and infrastructure design. On the contrary, as a proportion of total accidents and deaths due to ‘drivers’ fault’, intake of alcohol/drugs accounted for only 8.0 per cent and 9.9 per cent, respectively and it would be exceedingly inappropriate to incriminate the drivers as the sole reason for road accidents.
In furtherance to concede and divulge the infrastructural faults of Indian roads, it becomes germane to note that National Highways comprise only 15% of the total length of roads in India but account for 33% of the fatalities. A vast majority (68%) of those getting killed on highways in India comprise vulnerable road users. This being a cause for concern should be the guiding factor in future design considerations instead of considering heavy fines to act as absolute deterrent of road mis-happenings. The legislation instead of facilitating the requisite road facilities and eradicating its infrastructural defects has found a way to escape its responsibilities and placed the whole burden on the common people.
Nonetheless, it is an investigated recipe that imposing stricter penalties in the form of higher fines or longer prison sentences will not affect road-user behaviour and imposing stricter penalties will reduce the level of enforcement. Notably, higher penalty was levied on driving errors in Queensland, Australia between 1995-2010, but crash risks among drivers in Queensland could not be curtailed following receipt of hefty penalties for traffic infringements. Unfortunately, the practice could not act as a deterrence for traffic rule violations, and failed miserably.
In commensuration of the same, a report suggests that the number of road accident deaths per lakh of population at 10.8 in India is much lower compared with 12.08 in the Republic of Korea, 12.25 in USA and the Russian Federation 21.06, where the traffic fines surpass fines stipulated in the Amendment Act 2019. Making the situation crystal clear, the above facts suggest that neither India’s per capita income is proportional to the fines being levied under the Act nor it will serve the purpose it has been formulated for.