When It Comes to Paying Capacity, India's Traffic Fines Are Among Highest in World

During an event on Thursday, transport minister Nitin Gadkari had asked, “What is Rs 100?”. It is still a whole day’s earning for many in the country.

Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, has been trying hard to understand why people, parties and governments are opposing the heavy penalties he imposed for traffic violations considering they were ostensibly aimed at reducing accidents and resultant deaths.

On Thursday an exasperated Gadkari even went to the extent of equating traffic violations with the rape of minors. Addressing a programme on road safety in New Delhi, he said: “There is no fear of, no respect for the law. Thirty years back fine for any traffic violation was Rs 100…now what could be its value…We have brought the death penalty for people raping a minor girl…Some people can also argue on why the government has brought such a law. The law is to prevent such a heinous crime.”

Gadkari perhaps missed that Rs 100 is still significant for many people – for some it is even a full days’ wages. Gadkari is industrialist and an ‘agriculturist’ who has served in various positions in several state and central governments. His is not the world of ordinary motorists who believe the new penalties are here to cheat them.

Penalty highest in India in comparison to earnings

Take for example the penalty for crossing the speed limit. In India, following the amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act, the amount has risen to Rs 5,000 from Rs 500 earlier. Considering the paying capacity of the people, which can be gauged from their income, the amount is quite high.

In dollar terms, the country’s per capita income stands at $1670. So an average Indian earns $4.5 per day and the Rs 5,000 ($70 approximately) penalty works out to nearly 25 days’ earning.

Also read: After Gujarat, Karnataka Announces Slashes to Motor Vehicles Act Penalties

Now consider Singapore. It has a per capita income of of $93,900 or $257 per day and the over-speeding fine of $130 therefore comes to just half-a-day’s earning.

In United Arab Emirates, the per capita is $67,700, which puts a day’s earning at $185. Even though the over-speeding fine here is steep at $408 it still comes to just about 2.5 days income.

So is the case with the United States where the per capita stands at nearly $59,500. The fine amount of $35 therefore works to fewer than five days’ earning.

In Europe too if one considers Germany, the per capita is around $50,500 which pegs the average daily earning at $138. Considering that the fine is $39 for crossing the speed limit, the average portion taken will amount to around 3.5 days’ earning.

Greater the violation, more the penalty in foreign countries

These per capita figures have been drawn from 2017. The fines abroad vary from state to province and are dependent on the extent of violation – they rise significantly as the margin of over-speeding increases. In India, there is no such categorisation. These figures thus indicate how much more an average Indian is now required to pay in penalties.

Also read: Not All States Convinced By High New Traffic Violation Penalties

So when a two-wheeler rider was issued a challan of Rs 23,000 in Gurgaon, Haryana; an auto-rickshaw driver Rs 47,000 in Bhubaneswar, Odisha; or a truck driver a whopping Rs 200,500 by the Delhi Traffic Police, the panic was bound to spread.

Most penalties have nothing to do with road safety

The case of auto-driver Haribandhu Kanhar also shows how most of the penalties are imposed for offences which have nothing to do with accidents or loss of lives. He was challaned Rs 500 for general offence, Rs 5,000 for having an invalid driving licence, Rs 10,000 for violating permit conditions, Rs 10,000 for drunken driving, Rs 10,000 for violating air and noise pollution, Rs 5,000 for allowing an unauthorised person to drive a vehicle, Rs 5,000 for using a vehicle without registration and fitness certificate and Rs 2,000 for plying the vehicle without insurance.

Also watch | Why Are Delhi’s Auto and Taxi Drivers Protesting?

Except for the charge of “drunken driving”, which he denied, the remaining Rs 37,000 worth of challans could not have made the roads any safer for users. It is these penalties that need a re-look.

Consequently Kanhar, who purchased the auto for just Rs 25,000, said he would rather surrender it than pay up.

Autos strike against the MV Act on Wednesday. Photo: The Wire

In fact, many states have also found the penalties too harsh. While some of them like Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh have decided to lower them in some cases, others like Jharkhand and Goa have kept some of the penalties in abeyance.

Still others like Congress-ruled Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have decided not to implement the amended Act in its present form.

The United Front of Transport Associations (UFTA), an umbrella body of 41 goods and passenger transport associations, which had called for a transport strike in Delhi NCR to protest the levy of heavy penalties and harassment by police, had noted how the “exorbitant increase in traffic fines” had left drivers at the whim and mercy of the police.

It also noted that there was “no scientific approach” to imposing penalties.

‘Dangerous driving’ open to misuse

Earlier, the Institute of Road Traffic Education had also questioned the amendments and their connection to dangerous driving. It noted that dangerous driving has been defined as “jumping a red light, violating a stop sign, use of hand held communication devices while driving, passing or overtaking other vehicles in a manner contrary to law, driving against the authorised flow of traffic, or driving in any manner that falls far below what is expected of a competent and careful driver.”

Also read: No Motor Vehicles Act Can Help Chhattisgarh, the Wild West of Traffic

However, it commented that even in developed countries stop sign violation and red light jumping are not defined as such. The Institute also demanded changes saying the “amended Act will open flood gates to confusion, corruption and public harassment. Each driver or rider will become an ATM for the enforcement agencies” since the imposition of penalties would remain discretionary at the hands of the law enforcement officers.

IRTE president Rohit Baluja also stated how through a pyramid model, enforcement should ideally be a small portion of traffic management sitting at the top of the pyramid. The largest component from bottom to top should be legislation and codes of practice, creation of an ideal road environment, training and assessment of drivers and creation of awareness among non-motorised road users.

But, he noted, the amended Act has reversed the pyramid which now stands perilously on enforcement.

This is what Nitin Gadkari would do well to correct.