Nitin Gadkari stands alone defending new motor vehicles act

Collective defence of a policy decision has been the hallmark of the Narendra Modi government since 2014. This was seen during demonetisation, rollout of goods and services tax, Rafale deal, ban on sale of cows for slaughter in animal markets and the like.

Irrespective of the ministry concerned, every minister defended every policy decision. New Motor Vehicles Act, a pet policy decision of Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, appears to be an exception.

The amendment in the Motor Vehicle law increasing penalties for violations of traffic rules multiple times has not gone well with the people. Several state governments including the BJP-led ones have either diluted the law or put it on hold.

There is a clear sense of backlash among those sitting in the government both in the states and at the Centre but neither the Bharatiya Janata Party nor a minister of the Modi government or the Prime Minister himself has defended Nitin Gadkari, who has been found fending for himself all alone. He has given a few interviews defending the amended Motor Vehicle law.

Gadkari sought to pin the blame on the state governments should the road accidents continue to injure or kill huge number of people. Speaking to India Today TV, he said, My responsibility is to save the life of 1.20 lakh people dying on road in accidents. He said the idea behind hefty fines was to bring discipline in road traffic which would save many lives.

But states seem to have other ideas with regard to the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act.

Gujarat

Gujarat, the home state of PM Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, was the first state to red flag the issue. It announced to revise penalties and in certain cases, it has brought down the fines by almost 90 per cent. This was surprising given that PM Modi and Amit Shah continue to hold influence over the Gujarat government of Vijay Rupani.

This signals that neither PM Modi nor Amit Shah is against the idea of diluting the law the Modi government pushed through Parliament. Rupani went to the extent of saying his government had no intent of harassing people with hefty fines.

For Gadkari, it could be a surprise, as he has been vocal about the amendment for more than two years. Gadkari also held consultations with the states before finalising the draft of the amended law.

Poll-bound states

Among the poll-bound states of Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, only the Manohar Lal Khattar government of Haryana has implemented it. Maharashtra, where Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is in full election campaign mode, has not implemented it.

Jharkhand too does not intend to implement the amended Motor Vehicle Act. One Jharkhand minister said the motor vehicle act is not in the interest of the people. He, however, refused to link it with the upcoming election but the real reason is anybody’s guess.

Other BJP states

Karnataka, where chief minister BS Yeddiyurappa recently returned in to power in a very uneasy situation, has announced to follow the Gujarat model. The new Motor Vehicle laws will be implemented but penalties will be cut down significantly. Uttarakhand has done the same, implemented with cuts.

Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Tripura have not implemented it. While Assam and Tripura have said they will implement the Motor Vehicle Act, Uttar Pradesh the political powerhouse of the BJP is noncommittal. Uttar Pradesh police have, however, increased vigilance and collecting compounding fines in accordance with a notification issued in June this year.

Bihar, where the BJP is in power in alliance with the Janata Dal (United) of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the Lok Janshakti Party of Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, has implemented the amended Motor Vehicle Act. But the implementation has seen a different aspect of policing altogether in some areas.

Bihar Police, in some cases, were reported to catch the violators of traffic rules and force them to buy helmets, apply for driving license, get pollution tests done on the spot against payment of fees or take similar measures depending on the nature of the violation of law. Imposing fines has been low, as per reports but the government has said it will fully implement the central law.

Non-BJP states

Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab all ruled by the Congress have put the new Motor Vehicle Act on hold. Rajasthan, another Congress-ruled state, has implemented it only partially. Of these states, the BJP lost Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in last year’s assembly elections.

The Madhya Pradesh government has said the fines under the amended Motor Vehicle law are excessive. State law minister said even if the Kamal Nath government implemented the law, it would reduce penalties.

West Bengal government of Mamata Banerjee has been the most vocal critic of the amended Motor Vehicle Act. Already engaged in a tug-of-war with the Modi government over a range of issues, Mamata Banerjee made it clear that her government would not implement the new Motor Vehicle Act as it would put additional burden on people.

Curious case of Kerala, Odisha

Kerala and Odisha present a unique case in the implementation of the Motor Vehicles Act. Kerala implements it at first and then put the amended Motor Vehicle law on hold. It is likely to follow the Gujarat model of implementation with cuts in penalties.

Odisha’s stand is typical of chief minister Naveen Patnaik, known for his middle-path politics. The Odisha government has announced a moratorium for three months over the implementation of the new Motor Vehicle Act.

Hope for Gadkari in Delhi

Delhi, whose chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was involved in a defamation suit with Nitin Gadkari, has implemented the amended Motor Vehicle law. The government also refused to go for any cut in penalties.

Though the state governments have discretionary powers to ease the penalties with respect to certain offences in the new MV Act, the Delhi government is not mulling diluting them because the stringent measures are meant to ensure road safety, said Kailash Gahlot, the transport minister in Arvind Kejriwal government.

With Gadkari not getting the expected support from the BJP-ruled states, he has refused to target the Opposition parties over snubbing the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act in their states.

Gadkari has maintained that the opposition from non-BJP parties is not a political in nature. This might win Gadkari much-needed support the Opposition ranks while the BJP stands divided on his single-biggest legislative move.

Also read | Not afraid: Nitin Gadkari on protests against him over Motor Vehicles Act

Also watch | This is in public interest: Nitin Gadkari on new Motor Vehicles Act

Source – India Today