Why Madras HC Is Right In Finding Fault With States’ Move To Cut Fines Under New Motor Vehicles Act
The Madras HC has expressed anguish over state governments diluting the new MV Act.
The judges are upset that laws, meant to protect the citizen, are being frowned upon by the citizen himself.
This observation is a vindication of Nitin Gadkari’s legislative intent.
Last week, the Madras High Court made a pertinent point while hearing a batch of petitions on bike taxis and bike pooling facilities.
A High Court bench comprising Justices N Kirubakaran and P Velumurugan wondered when the Tamil Nadu government will begin implementing the amendments to the Motor Vehicles (MV) Act, 1988, made by the Centre during the monsoon session of Parliament.
While seeking a response from the Tamil Nadu government, the judges observed that they were disturbed over various state governments diluting the amendments to the MV Act across the country.
Stating that the Union government had made the changes after the courts had been insisting on them for years, the High Court expressed surprise over the Gujarat government being the first state in reducing the penalty under the provisions of the amended MV Act.
The judges’ observations should make Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari happy.
“The very purpose of the amendment is to bring down motor vehicle offences but that will be defeated if the state governments continue to dilute the law. They cannot and should not be allowed to do it. The Central government must be strict and find out how such dilution could be curbed,” Justice Kirubakaran said.
When the amended MV Act was brought into force, a hue and cry was raised over the higher amounts of penalty. Also, vehicle users offences were compounded with the police often coming up with receipts that sought over Rs 30,000 to even over Rs one lakh as penalties for various traffic violations.
Two clarifications were made in this regard — one by Gadkari and the other by Gurugram police chief since the Haryana city had come under criticism for raising huge penalties.
The Gurugram police chief said penalties had been imposed for various offences, including the drivers of four-wheelers or two-wheelers not having valid papers with them. The penalties would be reduced if the offenders produced the required documents.
Gadkari, on the other hand, made it clear that the penalties had been raised so that the higher fines would deter drivers from committing various traffic offences.
Under the amended MV Act, the fine for driving a two-wheeler without a helmet has been raised to Rs 1,000, while for driving vehicles without a valid licence the fine is Rs 5,000. Drunken driving will attract a fine of Rs 10,000, while overspeeding can get imprisonment besides fine.
Besides Gujarat, other states which have slashed the penalties under the amended MV Act are Uttarkhand, Karnataka, Jharkhand, West Benga, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Maharashtra.
Tamil Nadu and Kerala have announced that they will also reduce the penalties.
There are two views on the states reducing the penalties. One section of legal experts is of the view that of the 64 clauses in the amended MV Act, there are 24 clauses under which the states can reduce the penalty.
This section argues that the amount fixed by the Centre is the maximum that can be levied and hence there is justification in the states’ move. Another section of experts is of the view that the states cannot cut the penalties.
One of the important issues raised by the Madras High Court bench last week was the number of those killed in road accidents, in particular, due to drivers not wearing helmets or seat belts while driving.
Justice Kirubakaran made his point clear when he said that State governments cannot implement Acts that are against public interest, especially when many people die due to drunken driving.
The Madras High Court judges observation should also be seen in the context of how the State police has been slack in implementing its order to ensure that all two-wheeler drivers and pillion riders wear helmets.
The Tamil Nadu Director General of Police (DGP) has told the court, in a separate case looking into police being slack in penalising those driving without helmets, that the number of those penalised for riding without helmets has increased 91 per cent this year compared with last year.
The DGP told the court that the number of deaths due to helmet-less driving has declined 28 per cent this year against the year-ago period.
Gadkari, while moving the amendment of the MV Act in Parliament, said that as per 2017 statistics, 17 people died and 53 mishaps took place on roads every hour.
Nearly 1.5 lakh people lost their lives due to road accidents in 2017 with the highest being in Uttar Pradesh (20,214). Tamil Nadu saw the second-highest loss of 16,157 lives.
The Madras High Court observation could be seen in this regard too. Over the last couple of years, the High Court has been insisting that the State government implement the helmet rule strictly, but in vain.
In one particular order, the High Court told Tamil Nadu police that it should ensure women wear helmets while driving two-wheelers. It dismissed a petition which said helmets spoiled women’s beauty observing “Safety is more important that beauty!”
Tamil Nadu’s tardy implementation is in contrast to neighbouring Karnataka where the helmet rule is being implemented strictly. The State police has also been slack in checking traffic signal violations, driving on the wrong side of the road, violation of one-way traffic rule, and speaking on mobile phones while driving among other things.
Probably, the High Court judges are letting the public know that they cannot protest against higher penalties when they break rules which could threaten their own lives.
The judges' observation has hit the bull’s eye when the objective of the amendment to the MV Act is to deter violation and breaking of rules that put anyone to hardship.
It is now likely that the observation will sooner or later echo in other courts too besides the Supreme Court.
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