New Delhi: The central government has told states and Union territories that they should enforce the recently amended Motor Vehicles Act and that the steep fines it provides for cannot be rolled back.
The road transport and highways ministry wrote to all states and Union territories on Monday, saying the fines cannot be reduced below the minimum amount fixed by law, unless the President gives his assent.
The letter, a copy of which has been seen by Mint, quoted the Attorney General of India as warning that “disobedience" by states could “well attract" provisions of Article 356 — the part of the Constitution that gives the Centre powers to dissolve state legislatures.
In September, the government had sought the law ministry’s opinion to get clarity on whether states can reduce some of the fines below the minimum amount.
In non-compoundable offences, the Centre was clear that states cannot go below the prescribed penalty limit.
The step was prompted by the decision of some states, including Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Gujarat, to reduce fines for compoundable offences such as failure to wear seat-belts and helmets.
In a compoundable offence, the accused can get the charges against them dropped, either by paying the penalty or settling with the complainant. Such offences are generally not considered grave. Non-compoundable offences, on the other hand, are serious in nature, impact society at large and can only be quashed by a court.
The amended law that took effect on 1 September is a central legislation, which means state governments cannot pass any law or take executive action to lower the penalty and fine below what is prescribed, unless a state obtains the assent of the President, the letter quoted the Attorney General as saying.
The law seeks to improve road safety and instil discipline among citizens by imposing stiff fines for violation of traffic rules.
The Act led to a multifold increase in fines for commonplace violations such as driving without a licence and insurance, riding a two-wheeler without wearing helmets or driving four-wheelers without seat belts and carrying more passengers than a vehicle’s capacity.
Several states held back from implementing penalty provisions, worried they might prove politically unpopular.
A senior government official told Mint on condition of anonymity that, so far, eight states including Assam, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Karnataka, Manipur and Gujarat have notified the Act.
“In my opinion, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 contains no guidance as to how the power of compounding is to be exercised by the state governments. Thus, where notifying compounding amounts under Section 200, they are to be broadly guided by the provisions of the Act itself," the Attorney General said, adding that central government laws have to be obeyed by states.
“The disobedience of these directions could well attract the provisions of Article 356 of the Constitution of India, and one could therefore proceed on the basis that the central laws would implicitly be obeyed by the state governments," said the attorney general.