Road users are expected to applaud the Kerala government's move to freeze the implementation of new centrally mandated steep traffic fines. However, the absence of adequate alternatives could kill the objective of the new rules, road safety experts think.
The state government has sought legal opinion on freezing the enforcement of the rules that came into effect on September 1, after the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act was implemented, increasing the penalties severalfold. The move was piloted by Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari.
The state's political parties joined hands in demanding a rethink on implementing the rules, saying the stipulated fines were too steep for the average road user to meet. Telangana has also decided to not implement the new rules.
Both the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM), that heads the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), and the Congress party, that helms the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), had separately demanded the withdrawal of the steep fines.
The ticket rate for driving without a licence, one of the most common traffic offences on Indian roads, has gone up fivefold to Rs 5,000 from Rs 500. Driving despite disqualification invites a ticket of Rs 10,000 in place of earlier Rs 500. Dangerous driving could result in a penalty of up to Rs 5,000, up from Rs 1,000. Speeding will be met with Rs 1,000 fine against the earlier Rs 400. Drunk drivers will be slapped a fine of Rs 10,000 as against the previous Rs 2,000.
Auto industry sources say, however, that the steep fines may put more pressure on the industry, which is reeling under stress amid an economic slowdown, as people become reluctant to use vehicles, fearing the steep fines. Roads across the country are witnessing tense scenes as people resist paying higher fines. In some cases, motorists have abandoned their vehicles and fled after being stopped by traffic cops.
CPIM Kerala secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said on Sunday that the new laws should not be implemented in a hurry. Ramesh Chennithala, Leader of Opposition, belonging to the Congress party, flayed the Pinarayi Vijayan government for "undue haste" in implementing a Central government act without studying its implications.
Balakrishnan said the stiff penalties were "unscientific" and would result in more corruption, while Chennithala alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had "unilaterally" imposed the huge fines without consulting the state governments, according to a Livemint report. The hefty fines would give the corrupt among the law enforcing officials more elbowroom to demand more bribe to let the offenders off the hook.
Road safety experts, however, are of the view that the hefty fines would be a deterrent on traffic violations and improve overall road safety. The government's directive to the traffic police to be lenient with the offenders would also only make matters worse, according to them.