“FINES INTERVIEW ARE JUST ONE ASPECT, THE NEW MV ACT AIMS AT LARGER REFORMS”
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, has been a passionate project for NITIN GADKARI, the Union minister for road transport and highways. While there is a broad consensus that India needs stricter traffic enforcement, the hefty fines under the new law have triggered outrage even as critics point to motorists’ right to better road infrastructure. In an exclusive interview to Shwweta Punj and Kaushik Deka, Gadkari explains the larger goals of the new MV Act and how he plans to improve road infrastructure and make the authorities accountable. Excerpts: Q. How do you view the public criticism of hefty fines under the new MV Act?
I have received tremendous support. There was some confusion among the people about the fines. But what’s more important—[saving] people’s lives or [having lower] fines? The fines are not meant to earn revenue, which anyway doesn’t come to the Union government. The main purpose is to save lives on our roads.
Q. Critics say the new act squarely blames people for traffic violations while road and transport authorities remain unaccountable.
We cannot wait till everything gets perfect. There was no fear of the [previous] law because fines were so low. And fines are just one aspect of the new MV Act—it aims at larger reforms. Every stakeholder will be held accountable. For instance, the new law has provisions to fine contractors for bad roads. We have ensured the names of engineers and contractors of a road are made known to the public. If anything goes wrong because of their fault, they will be publicly shamed.
Q. Several states refused to implement the act, some BJP-ruled states have reduced the fines.
The states are not opposing the act. Except Mamata Banerjee, no party or politician has opposed it. The act has seven clauses on fines. Some subjects are in the concurrent list. The states are the final authority on fixing fines for some violations. Some of them have reduced the maximum fine in the clauses they are authorised to [fix fines in].
Q. Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Telangana, too, refused to implement the new fines.
They will do so, soon. To draft this law, we studied the motor vehicles acts in the US, UK, Singapore, Canada and Argentina. Twenty state transport ministers, from 12 different parties, recommended the draft bill. There could be some reservation about the fines, but it’s just one part of the act. There is massive public support for the amendments.
Q. Do you feel isolated by the lack of support from your own party?
I’m a conviction-oriented person. I don’t feel isolated. The people and media are supporting me. I got support even from Sonia Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal. Reforms face such fric
tions. We have to face these for public good. We cannot ignore the fact that nearly 50 per cent of those who die in accidents are in the 25-45 age group. Q. Roads are in poor shape, road engineering is faulty and traffic signals frequently malfunction. How does the government plan to fix these issues? We need to introduce transparent traffic management by improving road and automobile engineering and making extended use of e-governance. In the past five years, we spent Rs 12,000 crore to improve 786 ‘black spots’ on national highways. Now, we plan to improve ‘black spots’ on state highways and other roads and will provide the states Rs 14,000 crore through the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. We have made tremendous progress in road engineering, though I won’t claim we are perfect.
Q. There is a direct correlation between traffic indiscipline and public transport. Our cities have abysmal public transport. Vehicle numbers are growing much faster than road length.
China has 6 million buses, we have only 1 million. We plan to launch double-decker buses running on bio-ethanol. Parking takes away most of the road space. Vehicles are increasing at an alarming rate. The government alone cannot fix all these issues. It has to be a public-private model of investment. We are studying the London transport model. We are gradually building multi-level parkings with new technologies. We need to introduce [more] cable cars and ropeways in the hilly regions, more helipads too. There should be more focus on waterways, which are anyway cost-effective.
Q. Unlike cities, there is hardly any enforcement on highways, which account for over 50 per cent of the fatalities.
Highway policing is a law and order issue under state governments. I had promised to reduce highway deaths by 50 per cent. In the past five years, I could bring it down by only 4 per cent. It is hugely disappointing.
Q. What tech applications can we expect to make traffic enforcement more effective?
We are moving towards a pan-India online system for issuing driving licences. All transport authorities will soon be under a single grid. Data of every driver and vehicle will be available online. Intelligent traffic management systems, utilising cameras, are functional in almost all metros. I was fined when my car exceeded the speed limit in Mumbai; the challan came home. Union minister V.K. Singh has been fined. We hope to extend this to every city.
“What’s more important: saving people’s lives or lower fines?”