The Union government’s plan to standardise fines and check errant behaviour on roads has suffered a rude setback, with Gujarat diluting fines for violation of traffic rules. On Tuesday, Gujarat became the first BJP-ruled state to reduce traffic fines, with chief minister Vijay Rupani saying that the “base rate for the fines will be lower than the one proposed by the union government" and the revised fines will be implemented from Monday.

Being a state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also heads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime at the Centre, Gujarat’s stance has injected a curious dimension to the Centre versus state dispute. Not to forget, Gujarat is also Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, that came into effect from 9 August seeks to improve road safety and discipline by imposing hefty penalties for violation of traffic rules. According to the law, there will also be a 10% increase in the penalty every year.

The new penalty for driving without licence has been increased 10 times to 5,000, while penalty for drunk driving has been increased five times to 10,000. Not giving way to emergency service vehicles will attract as much 10,000 penalty. Besides, fines have been increased manifold for breaking other traffic related rules such as driving without insurance-related documents, helmets, seatbelts, carrying more passengers than the vehicle’s capacity, among others. These fines came into effect 1 September.

Gujarat’s move comes amid rising concerns over hefty fines for traffic violations. Among several cases reported last week, a man driving a two-wheeler in Delhi was fined a whopping 23,000 for not wearing a helmet and not carrying vehicle-related documents. Similarly, a truck driver in Odisha was fined 86,500. However, reports suggested that after a five-hour negotiation, the driver paid 70,000 as fine.

Resentment against the hefty fines has also been playing out in other states such as Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Punjab which are all under the Congress rule. Odisha under the rule of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) have also expressed reservations in implementing the steep fines.

“Out of the 63 clauses (under the motor vehicles act) that were implemented under the Act from September 1, 24 clauses and sub-clauses in which states have the power to decide the penalty. The penalty as suggested by the Centre acts as a ceiling," Piyush Tewari, Founder of non-profit organization SaveLIFE Foundation said.

According to Tewari, there is a huge misunderstanding that states will be slashing the fines and create their penalties. States don’t have the power to slash penalties proposed by the Centre, barring the 24 clauses under the Motor Vehicles Act, he said.

Travelling without ticket, unauthorised use of vehicles without licence, punishment for offences pertaining to construction and maintenance of vehicles, overspeeding, driving vehicle without registration, overloading of passengers, among others are some of the clauses under which states have the power to revise penalty.

The road for the new Motor Vehicles Act has been bumpy. The Centre had proposed several amendments to the 30-year old law and introduced it in the Parliament in 2016. It was also referred to a standing committee to review changes. While it was passed by the Lok Sabha, it faced opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Thereafter, the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha. It was only in the NDA’s second term that the Bill got the Parliament’s nod.