Hefty fines keep Delhi motorists in line

Steep surge in penalties under the amended Motor Vehicles Act has made vehicle owners see reason in following norms, but many fear the law may be misused by traffic policemen

Licence, pollution control certificate, vehicle registration documents, insurance papers, helmet, seat belt... the list of things to check before taking your vehicle out on the road has suddenly become taxing and essential.

The checklist was always there, for the safety of the motorists as well as others on the road, but it has gained urgency, thanks to the steep surge in penalties under the amended Motor Vehicles Act implemented in the country from September 1.

The city police have been issuing an average of 4,000 to 5,000 challans every day.

All the fines have to be paid in court, pending a notification from the Delhi government authorising officers to issue on-spot challans.

According to data shared by the Delhi police, between September 1 and 5, the most number of challans — 4,097 — were issued to people riding motorbikes without helmets.

As many as 254 people were challaned for drunk driving, 1,229 for not wearing seat belt, 1,527 for driving dangerously and 2,698 for signal violation, said the police.

Safety on the mind

When The Hindu asked motorists about the steep fines, some said it might increase corruption, while others lauded it saying it will enhance road safety.

Sheetal Kumar, an autorickshaw driver, said: “This change will make a difference because people will avoid wasting their hard-earned money on paying fines. The penalties are so high, people will end up following traffic rules out of fear. But of course, people with fancy cars would be least affected because they get away easily.”

Echoing Mr. Sheetal’s opinion, Raju, another auto driver, said motorists have lost all fear.

“Three people without helmets can ride a bike and not get caught. But that will change now, especially in cases of drunk driving when you have to pay ₹25,000 to ₹30,000 as penalty [in case of multiple violations].”

Mr. Raju said he had been in Delhi since 1976 and things had only worsened. “The situation will not change till the people do,” he said, pointing to the cars parked at Khan Market.

Welcoming the amended rules, taxi driver Neeraj said it will discourage underage people from driving.

“The fines are more than the vehicle’s maintenance cost, so everyone will be careful. This is good,” he said.

Corruption concern

Some motorists, however, feared that higher penalties may mean more corruption.

A petrol pump owner in central Delhi, who did not wish to be named, said it will become easier for traffic police officers to take bribe once they start issuing on-spot challans.

Pramod, an IT professional who has a two-wheeler, said: “Earlier, the police were happy with a ₹100 bribe, now we will have to shell out more. The police will harass us more now.”

Recounting her experience of “police corruption”, a UPSC aspirant from south Delhi said her car, with an Uttar Pradesh number plate, was stopped for an apparent traffic violation in Karol Bagh. The policeman asked for the vehicle’s pollution certificate, which was valid in U.P. but not in Delhi.

“Instead of fining me ₹1,100 for the violation, the policeman asked me to ‘settle the matter’ for ₹500,” she said.

‘State-sponsored oppression’

The spike in the cost of fines for traffic offences has not gone down well with the owners and operators of goods’ and passenger vehicles in the Capital who termed the move a form of “state-sponsored oppression”.

“Genuine fines” are very few compared to instances of “deliberate harassment” by traffic and transport enforcement officials, said Rajender Kapoor, president of the Delhi Goods Transport Organisation, the apex body of transport service operators.

“There is no problem with genuine fines. Just think about it: would the owner of a high-end vehicle carrying expensive goods send drivers out without all the paperwork and risk losing business for a day because of a court date? The issue is of deliberate harassment of undereducated drivers by those enforcing and collecting these hefty fines,” Mr. Kapoor said.

“These penalties have become a noose around the necks of transport operators like me who are already reeling under the impact of the economic slowdown across sectors. Who is to say that a driver did not produce all the documents to a traffic policeman or an enforcement official? What they write and submit to court will be taken as gospel by the magistrate concerned and we will lose financially one way or another,” he added.

Sanjay Samrat, president of the Delhi Taxi, Tourist Transporters Association, complained that the heavy fines were especially punishing for the lower middle-class households which were trying to utilise their limited means in the “best way possible”.

“Public transport in Delhi is not adequate, pushing more people to use two-wheelers. What is the problem if a family of three is travelling on a motorbike or a scooter because there isn’t enough space on buses or metro trains and they can't afford a cab?” he argued.

“It seems the government not only wants to divert attention from the dire condition of the economy, but also make common citizens pay steep fines to bring it back on track. They [lower-middle class], it seems, are being made to pay through their nose for trying to live a relatively dignified life,” Mr. Samrat added.

Addressing the apprehensions on corruption, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Narendra Bundela told The Hindu, “If we receive any complaint, we will take action. Measures are being adopted to monitor and keep such instances in check.”

On a few riders and drivers raising concern over being stopped randomly at dysfunctional traffic signals for speeding, Mr. Bundela clarified that if a traffic officer is not in possession of a speedometer, he or she cannot issue a challan for speeding. “Similarly, if a traffic light is not functioning, and the traffic is being managed manually, then no challan can be issued for jumping the signal. Meanwhile, details of dysfunctional traffic signals have been given to authorities concerned for repair,” he said.

Angry reactions

The increased penalties in challans have also led to incidents of angry and aggressive behaviour on the road.

On September 5, a resident of Sarvodaya Enclave, Rakesh, was stopped for riding a motorcycle without a helmet near Chirag Dilli.

Facing a challan of ₹11,000, the man, allegedly under the influence of alcohol, set his motorcycle ablaze.

Mr. Bundela said it was an isolated incident and cannot be seen as a trend which needs to be tackled. However, as a precautionary measure, and to protect themselves from any untoward incident, all traffic police officers have been asked to wear body cameras and use video recorders while issuing challans.

Body cameras will also keep corruption in check, said S. Velmurugan, Senior Principal Scientist and former head of the Traffic Engineering and Safety Division, CSIR CRRI.

“People trying to convince officers into not issuing challans and take money instead should be stopped. That menace should not be allowed otherwise the purpose of [traffic regulations] will get defeated. Making body cameras mandatory for the police will help curb the menace,” he said.

Dr. Velmurugan said the higher traffic penalties are a welcome change. “The fines are higher but if you compare them to a developed country, the rates [here] are much lower. It will take time for people to follow the system. They will gradually accept the rules, which will directly contribute to road safety,” he said.

On-spot challans

Since the Delhi Police comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the force is implementing the Act in the city.

However, officers are not issuing on-spot challans as the Delhi government is deliberating on the matter. All the challans currently have to be settled in court

The government is examining the various provisions of the Act before a gazette notification is issued, said officials.

Section 200 of the amended Motor Vehicles Act authorises the Delhi government to issue a Gazette notification for compounding of certain offences indicating who will be the person or official who can compound the offences and what would be the amount for such offences.

“The government is examining various revised provisions of the Act and intends to notify the legislation in the Capital soon,” the official said.

Sources claimed that the notification is likely to come by the end of next week.

Court challans

Given that only court challans are being issued currently, advocate Abhishek Kumar Pathak explained how they make lives easier for commuters.

“Now, an individual can get his traffic challan compounded even while sitting at home and making online payment. This has done away with the practice of visiting court which was a bit cumbersome process. This will also ease the workload of the traffic challan courts.”

Mr. Pathak explained that in case a person challaned for traffic violation wishes to challenge the same, he has to approach the magistrate court concerned to argue his innocence.

If the court is satisfied, he shall be discharged.

“In case he is not satisfied with the order, he can always challenge the same before a sessions judge,” Mr. Pathak said.

More appeals likely

Mr. Pathak further observed that the number of appeals in traffic challan cases could go up as the amount of fines has been increased.

He said earlier the number of people challenging traffic challans was negligible as the amount was small.

(With inputs from Hemani Bhandari, Arushi Agarwal, Jatin Anand and Soibam Rocky Singh)

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 7:50:27 PM |

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