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Ever since taking charge as the Union minister for road transport and highways in 2014, Nitin Gadkari had been a relentless crusader for tougher traffic laws. This resulted in the Motor Vehicle (MV) Act 2019 with new traffic regulations coming into effect from September 1. In an interview to Jyotika Sood, Gadkari talks about the new law, protests, heavy fines and centre-state conflict. Excerpts:
What inspired you to bring in the new MV Act?
India has the highest number of road accidents in the world—about five lakh every year in which 1.5 lakh lives are lost.
A large number of the victims are in the age group 18-35 years which not only impacts the livelihood of many families but also the country’s GDP. I feel it is our responsibility to reduce road accidents and save lives. There was also a need to address corruption and red-tapism in transport departments and facilitate citizens. In addition to this, the transport sector in the country needed to be modernised and made more efficient by making way for new modes of transport and new technology.
Is the government witnessing any change in public due to the new MV Act?
As per our reports, there is an increase of 5-6% footfalls at regional transport offices. These are for registration of vehicles, application of driving licenses and other transportation certificates. Moreover, traffic on roads is getting disciplined with people shunning careless attitude and adopting responsible driving. People are quietly standing and waiting before the zebra crossing, wearing helmets and belts, getting PUC certificates, etc to list a few.
I would also like to highlight that according to Road Safety Report 2018, which is yet to be made public, there is a 4 per cent decline in road accidents as compared to 2017 and biggest surprise is from Tamil Nadu where accidents have reduced by 29 per cent. I want to tell the people that our motive is not to collect fine or money from them. Just follow the rules and you don’t have to pay a penny.
Many states are now slashing the penalties following protests from the public and transporters. Do you think this is diluting the essence of the Act?
I don’t think there is any kind of dilution. The states could reduce fines only for compoundable offence penalties. But stringent traffic violations like drunken driving, juvenile driving, etc are non-compoundable and state governments don’t have any say in these. One or two states may have reservations but the important thing is that people are dying and we need to take it seriously. I have spoken to several CMs and many of them understand the importance of it. In fact, political opponents like Sonia Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal are also on board for it.
However, I would like to point out that the media is not portraying it correctly. For example, a truck driver was caught and he didn’t have a driving license, truck papers, pollution certificate, fitness certificate and was also drunk. So the fine imposed was for five violations. Yet the media focused on the quantum of fines and not how hazardous it was for him to drive. If media is reporting about protests and heavy penalties they should also give the reasons for the fine so that the public can take a call on whether it is right and wrong. Also, I would like to point that revenue collected from traffic challans goes to state treasury only and not central.
Do you think the heavy penalties prescribed in the new MV Act would help solve the traffic chaos and inculcate sensible driving in India?
The penalties under the new Act have been prescribed as deterrents, and are expected to check willful violation of traffic rules that make Indian roads so unsafe. When the penalty is less, people do not feel the pinch and keep on breaking rules. Road users today show very little respect and fear for authority.
We are also working on automobile engineering and road engineering, making road and passenger safety a priority. Under the MV Act, contractors who are keeping roads in unsafe conditions would also be penalised.
What other things are in your mind to resolve traffic chaos on Indian roads?
There is a need to modernise the traffic system in our country, make use of IT tools, latest technology, modern modes of transportation and integrated transport management. Our towns and cities need efficient public transport systems which are cost effective and pollution free and we are working on electric public transportation for it. Besides, new modes of transport like ropeways have to be made part of the public transport system. We also need to develop integrated multi-modal transport systems. The new Act provides for formulating a National Transport Policy which we will do soon. This will take care of these issues.