Every year 1,50,000 people get killed on roads and 65 percent of them are 18-35 years old.
The Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) 2019, came into effect on 1 September this year, after its approval by both the houses of the parliament in the month of July and getting a presidential signature on 9 August. The Act has challenged the Centre-State relationship, while facing its own issues, as more and more states are declining to either accept it in totality or are diluting its stiffer and heftier provisions under rising popular criticism.
While reservations, hesitation or opposition to the newly amended MVA 2019 — with comprehensive and elaborate features that replaced the outdated Act passed in the year 1988, in opposition ruled states like Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh or Madhya Pradesh — could be accepted or even explained away, refusal of the BJP-ruled states like Gujarat to implement the Act, begs a closer look at the Act itself, as well as reasons for the states taking such a stand.
At the same time, the MVA 2019 seems to be bringing out the internal political dynamics of the ruling BJP into the open as Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari seems to be isolated in this whole issue. He is the only minister of the Modi cabinet who is defending the law, while no other minister has stepped out to support the Act. It is for the first time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP-led NDA government assumed power in 2014 that a central government’s provision, initiative or a decision is not being collectively defended and even the BJP ruled states are standing up in defiance.
While some BJP ruled states like Maharashtra and Jharkhand have postponed the implementation of the new Act as they have to face assembly elections in the upcoming months, other states like Karnataka and Uttarakhand are obviously worried about the people’s wrath.
Let us first take up the Act in terms examining its strengths and flaws. Gadkari, who piloted the MVA 2019 through parliament in his capacity as Minister in charge of Road Transport and Highways, defended it by saying that “people need to have a fear of the law.” “It’s time that the country starts thinking about saving lives. Every year 1,50,000 people get killed on roads and 65 percent of them are 18-35 years old. They haven’t been killed in terror strikes or riots. This (new law) was done to save lives,” he asserted. Gadkari pointed out that the main objective of the new Act is to save lives.
In 2017, as per the data of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, 4.65 lakh road accidents had taken place in which 1.47 lakh individuals had been killed. Two-wheelers had accounted for over a third of all road mishaps.
Apart from saving precious lives, the MVA — based on the recommendations of the Group of Transport Ministers from States — has some noble features as well. In earlier acts, persons who used to come forward to give medical or non-medical assistance to victims of an accident used to face lots of problems which were both of civil and criminal in nature.
With the objective of plugging in this loophole that used to discourage persons to come forward to help, the amended Act also defines a good samaritan as a person of good faith. Such a person renders emergency medical or non-medical assistance to a victim at the scene of an accident, voluntarily and without expectations of any reward. Such a person shall not be liable for any civil or criminal action for any injury to or death of any accident victim, caused due to their negligence or inability in providing assistance to the victim.
The MVA has empowered the central government to order for the recall of motor vehicles if there is a defect in the vehicle which may harm the driver, environment, or other road users. The manufacturer of the recalled vehicle will be required to reimburse the buyers for the full cost of the vehicle, or replace the defective vehicle with another vehicle with similar or better specifications. The Act has features pertaining to the formulation of a national road transportation policy or constitution of a road safety board.
Introduction of heavy fines for drunken driving, driving without license, dangerous driving, over speeding, etc., with the avowed goal of deterring, controlling, reducing if not totally eliminating road accidents, has caused public outrage and has made the MVA a subject of ridicule on social media.
Undoubtedly, there is an element of perceived excess in the fines like stepping up the amount from Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000 for drunken driving or that of driving without a valid license, which incurs a fine of Rs 5,000. Penalty for dangerous driving is imprisonment of over six months to a year and/or a fine of Rs 5,000 that was Rs 1,000 earlier, which for a subsequent offence within three years of the first, has been hiked to imprisonment up to two years and/or a fine of Rs 10,000. Hefty and still fines are also in the Act for not having pollution control certificates amongst other things.
It is this aspect of the newly amended Act, whose guiding philosophy is that heavier penalties and an extra dose of coercive action along with a heavy hand can result in improvement or can reform humans into law abiding citizens, that has resulted in popular dissent against the new law.
Loss of popular support is forcing states to take a stand that is being projected as being anti-Centre. Since, road- transport and law & order comes under the state list of subjects in the Constitution and the newly amended Act is a model Act that needs to be adopted by states in accordance with the specific requirements and prevailing circumstances — not only opposition ruled states but even BJP ruled states are taking time to adopt it fully or with changes. There may be some states that may not adopt the model Act but then the principle of federalism does provide this much room or space to steer their respective ships of governance.
Political motives behind the silence of the top BJP leadership leaving Gadkari to fight his own battle notwithstanding; Stand taken by various states on the MVA is a classic display of cooperative federalism in operation. It would be unfortunate if the Modi government were to issue a whip forcing states to adopt the central law lock, stock and barrel.
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Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He hasRead More +