Lost Opportunity To Improve Road Safety In India
Recently I said Transport Minister Nitin Gadakri should be declared "Man of the Year" for getting the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill passed. But I had also expressed a fear that the higher penalties and fines will not be appreciated and that there would be stiff resistance from the public. I had anticipated opposition party members would lead protests and come on to the streets demanding a reduction in the fines too. As expected Congress ruled states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab have shown serious reluctance in enforcing the new fines, as has West Bengal. But I had never imagined that even governments of BJP ruled states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, etc, would oppose the increase in penalties and find ways to reduce the quantum of fines. Now many from the ruling BJP are also saying the middle class person cannot afford to pay as their monthly income is possibly lesser than the fine amounts!
File photograph of Nitin Gadkari, union minister for road transport and highways.
The public outcry against the increased fines mandated in the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill has been extremely strong and vocal. Due to the vehement opposition, social media has been buzzing with anti-fine comments and countless jokes. One thing that is repeatedly being cited is that you just cannot have such fines, when our road conditions are so bad. When we have more potholes than paved surfaces, and when our road markings, signages, and other such facilities are either missing or non-existent. I fully agree that our roads are by and large in a pathetic and completely unacceptable condition. Our highways are also badly designed and poorly built and maintained. I have no arguments whatsoever against any of this. But just because we have poor roads, does not mean we drive or ride badly too. Yes, the horrible roads are responsible for a fair number of accidents. But what about those accidents and deaths that happen due to breaking of traffic laws and indiscipline? Should we not do something to stop this? Or should we wait endlessly until such time the roads get better. And disregard the fact that our country has the highest number of road fatalities in the world. The undeniable fact is that we are possibly the worst drivers, riders and road users in the world. And as a direct result of this shameful attitude, our roads are being washed every single day with the blood of over 400 human beings! All of who are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children to someone.
Given this, I have no hesitation in reiterating than I am an ardent supporter of the higher fines and advocate strict and complete implementation of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill. And to those that are opposing it, I want to ask, "Why do you need to commit traffic offences?" It's quite simple really, if you do not break the law, you don't pay any fines. Now what is wrong with that? And where is the question of being poor or rich. Either you follow traffic rules or you don't. In fact, if you cannot afford to pay the fines, you should be that much more careful, should you not? But no, we must oppose it. Because to break traffic laws is presumably a fundamental right, which many of us Indians are just not willing to give up.
Nitin Gadkari who has single-handedly been fighting for the cause of reducing road accidents by enforcing higher fines, put it quite aptly recently when he said; "I don't understand why they are opposing the law. Only those who violate rules are facing problems. Who will be held responsible and what would be the cost of lives lost in accidents if a drunk driver is involved in fatal accidents? We have stiff penalties for people involved in rape of a minor. Can anyone demand reducing the penalties of such an offence? High penalties work as a deterrent for violators."
Image source - News18
Interestingly, after the introduction of this Bill, the number of people getting insurance for their vehicles has suddenly shot up as has the volume of those renewing their driving licences or even getting one. Yes, a whole lot of people in our country drive and ride without possessing a licence. The fear of being caught and fined is now forcing them to get a licence. There has also been a massive increase in the number of PUC (pollution under control) certificates issued for vehicles.
Now let's just earnestly contemplate, and try and imagine, what could possibly happen if the fines for traffic offences is enforced strictly, honestly, and without any favour or bias. Nobody would dare drink and drive and kill people and crush cars. Or ride rashly and without a proper helmet. A few would jump traffic lights or go onto the wrong side of the road or down a one-way street. The incidents of stupidly over speeding, rash driving, joining roads or crossing junctions without stopping and looking, all would see a remarkable reduction. There would be fewer accidents and lesser road fatalities and injuries. There would not be as much emotional, physical and financial trauma for the families of those involved in accidents. We lose three per cent of our GDP to road accidents; this massive loss can be reduced and become a boost for the economy, something our government is presently grappling with. But will any of this happen? I have my doubts, because Oh Darling, Yeh Hai India.