"Tughlaqi farmaan (diktat)." That's how a Madhya Pradesh minister who holds the transport portfolio described the centre's steep hike in fines for traffic offences. Several states, including BJP-ruled ones, have said they would revise the massive penalties - for example, up to three-year jail and Rs 25,000 fine if a minor is caught driving - amid a pushback from motorists who say the penalties are unreasonable.
"The government's Motor Vehicle Act is a Tughlaqi farmaan (diktat). Most of the fines are more than what a common man can afford. I don't want the people of Madhya Pradesh to face such hefty fines. I will discuss the issue with Chief Minister Kamal Nath," Madhya Pradesh Transport Minister Govind Singh Rajput said on Thursday, referring to the 13th century ruler Muhammad bin Tughlaq who, according to historians, introduced a system of heavy taxation that contributed to his decline.
"...If a poor farmer forgets to bring vehicle documents, then he would be fined up to Rs 10,000. Can it be called prudent? Before implementing the dictatorial law, the centre should have first prepared the people with a comprehensive public awareness drive," Mr Rajput said.
The Congress's Kamal Nath has asked the centre to reconsider the "impractical" penalties for traffic violations. "Centre should reconsider fine and penalty rates and give relief to people. We're also studying them at our level," the Chief Minister tweeted on Thursday. "They should be in line with the paying capacity of people, particularly when there is an economic slowdown," he said.
Mr Rajput told NDTV he would meet the top officers of the Transport Department soon to take a decision on the issue. "We're in talks with other Congress-ruled states. We're not averse to implementing the amended law, but not in favour of implementing the high penalty rates," Mr Rajput said.
"For now we are charging for traffic violations at old rates. We'll do whatever is to be done within our jurisdiction to charge lower rates, even after the amended law is implemented in Madhya Pradesh," the Transport Minister said. "The new rates can't be justified, as in some cases they are even higher than the actual price of the vehicle," he added.
The BJP governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Karnataka have expressed their unwillingness to go ahead with the new penalties. Opposition-ruled Kerala and Delhi have also indicated they will consider making drastic changes at their end if the government doesn't reconsider the penalties. The West Bengal government has flatly rejected the possibility of implementing them in its jurisdiction.
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