There is absolutely no argument for the need for reforms in the decades old motor vehicles act, everyone would just agree to it, even the bill for the amendment of the act has got support from majority of the law makers across the parties in both the houses of the parliament. The amended act has got implemented on September 1, and since then there is inconvenience to the people driving vehicles on the roads. It reminds me of demonetization – the first major act of the Modi government after coming into power in 2014 – it was a great idea, the country was enthusiastic about it, but very soon it turned out to be a nightmare for the common man. It had caused a havoc like situation- everywhere people faced so much inconvenience at financial fronts, economy was effected, many lost job, it became a big political issue as well – but still after all this, the Modi government had got the support of the nation on this issue, why it was so? – It was because the common man in general was convinced that the intent of the government behind the decision to implement demonetization was right and it was for the good of the country, and whatever inconvenience was there, the government could not had done much to avoid that.
But then why the same people are showing resistance and anger for the amendment in the motor vehicles act, which like demonetization is a noble idea and is for the good of the citizens and the country?
If we look back at the demonetization days, there was definitely so much inconvenience for everyone, but still there was a general feeling that with all the constraints and loopholes in the banking system, the government had tried to do the best it could had done. In general, people had the idea that to make the demonetization success, it had to be kept secret till the time of implementation and at the same time government had the pressure to minimize the inconvenience for the citizens and restore the normalcy as soon as possible.
In contrast, if we analyze the sentiments in the country in the aftermath of the amendment in the motor vehicles act- in general people say that the amendment is needed, but there are many grievances as well - what about the road infrastructure, what about the complex rules for taking approvals/certificates, what about the inappropriate and irresponsible behavior of the traffic police and staff in the government departments in general? And there is a clear feeling that the government has not come up with a concrete plans to take care of these issues, and it is just pushing for higher penalties assuming it will sort out all the problems.
Prior to this amendment, the penalties were a little low, but was there any study done to analyze what actually was the major reasons for the traffic rules not being followed strictly? Are majority of the Indians are by nature prone to break law? Are they rich enough to happily pay the penalties even if it was not so high whenever they drove? Do we have sufficient traffic police available to monitor violations and take actions? Had the traffic police sincerely tried to ensure the laws were being enforced?
It’s actually a No for all above, then how only increasing the penalty will fix the problem? There is obvious disagreement among the citizens on this amendment, and instead of passing on the sentiments to the union government, the state governments are just reducing the increased penalties to a larger extent- it’s already done in many states and the rest are set to follow the trend. This explains the recent amendment in the motor vehicles act is not going to improve the situation and will prove to be a failure. Then what more the government should had done in addition to increasing the penalties?
The government must had looked at the problem holistically, it must had taken into account that the traffic regulations are not only the responsibility of the common man, everyone including the government and its concerned departments must share the responsibility and need to come up with the plans to fix the issues on their part and behave sensibly and responsibly. Let’s go into a little deep and try to understand the problem and how it should be fixed.
It’s not only citizen’s responsibility to ensure road safety
In many cities including a few top cities in the country, the road infrastructure is in bad shape, it’s nowhere in match to the traffic. And when to travel a 10 km distance it takes 1 hour, and every second kilometer you have to wait on a traffic signal for 5 to 10 minutes – and if it happens every day- you lose all sense of responsibility. It’s a pain, and this has to be fixed, off course it can’t be done in a month or an year, but the citizens want to see seriousness on the part of the government on this and a concrete futuristic plan involving the citizens and with a strict time line for the implementation.
There are a few traffic laws under the motor vehicle act which are not so appropriate. Some such laws are probably just copied from some developed countries laws, which cannot just work as it is in India. For example - The law for authorization for driving a vehicle- which is there for a long time, and if followed properly it helps the owner and the person driving the vehicle in any unforeseen situations. It also helps the police find stolen vehicles and control crimes, as majority of criminal activities are done using stolen vehicles. It was never implemented that strictly, but with the high enthusiasm of the traffic police after the recent amendment in the motor vehicles act, there has been cases reported for penalized for non-authorized driving, and it has exposed the complexity of this law in implementation.
The authorization process is not simple and it takes time, probably using the technology and the digital data availability of all vehicles and driving licenses, a simple app by the transport department can be used where in less than a minute an owner can authorize another person to use his vehicle, and once he/she returns the authorization can be easily canceled. The traffic police as well can be tasked to do authorization for a vehicle owner in case the owner is not able to do it himself/herself.
We must remember that India is not same everywhere, so the exact same traffic law everywhere doesn’t makes much sense - the traffic rules appropriate in a metro city may not be as relevant in a rural or a semi-urban area.
After the recent amendment, pollution certificate for a vehicle is valid only for 3 months, it costs to get the certificate, and that’s an extra burden on the budget for many people. If government is serious about pollution why not it mandates every petrol pump to have free pollution check facility and authorizes them to provide pollution certification. Government may compensate the petrol pump companies/owners by providing some other benefits.
The government must analyze every rule of the motor vehicles act, modify/simplify it if it is found to be not appropriate, and implement it in the right manner.
Corruption and work overload in the government departments
As the union transport minister Mr. Nitin Gadkari has rightly stated 60% of driving licenses in this country are fake. That clearly means there is large scale corruption in the government department. Another example of such corruption are the high number of old vehicles running on the roads, many of such vehicles are actually not in good shape and creates lot of pollution. How RCs of such vehicles gets renewed?
It’s a common scene on the roads – a traffic police stops a vehicle which is following the rules, and then asks for each and every certificate and looks for any possible lapse, instead of checking only for the violations. It creates a havoc on the road, it creates scope for corruption and harassment by the traffic police. It needs to be corrected, the following two measures will help take care of the major concerns of harassment and corruption by the traffic police –
Interaction of the traffic police with the vehicles owners/drivers for any kind of checking should be recorded. There are cameras at many signal traffic, where it is not there it should be installed and should be used to put a check on the police and give confidence to the commuters.
All information of a vehicle is already digitally available to the road and transportation department, instead of creating havoc and allowing scope for corruption and harassment during checking by the traffic police, why not the road and the transportation department uses this digitally available data and sends penalties charges for any lapses like insurance or pollution certificate directly to the vehicle owner. Such a system in place, can also be used to issue reminders and warning as well before penalizing him/her. Going forward, when you have cameras at all the traffic signals and different places on the road, and any over speed, reckless driving or signal jump and other traffic violations can be monitored and the driver can be penalized digitally, this will not only ensure nobody violating rules escapes to pay the penalty and will as well relive the traffic police from so much of work lead.
The country has always supported any initiative of the government which is good for the country, provided the government has come ahead and done its part with all sincerity. It’s the same country where on appeal of late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashti, crores of people had voluntarily stopped having one meal every week, and India didn’t had to import grains. Any amendment in the laws including the motor vehicles act will get whole hearted support from the citizens provided government sincerely does its part first.
* Rahul Vatsa is an IT professional from Bihar.