India Today - - COVER STORY -

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?”


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