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Pros & Cons of steep traffic fines;Much debate in public

From Devsagar Singh

New Delhi, Sept 6: Steep traffic fines that came into force three days ago have become a  major talking point in the city with no less than union transport minister Nitin Gadkari justifying them while some opposing them as disproportionate to the crimes committed.

Those opposing the steep fines refer to reports of a motorcyclist imposed a fine of Rs 23000 in Gurgaon for a traffic offense and an auto driver in Odisha slapped with a similar amount for another traffic offense. Calling such fines disproportionate, the opponents seem to suggest that the measures were out of tune for a country like India where traffic violations have routinely been ignored all these years. There are several factors to ponder about: traffic signals at road intersections are routinely faulty and take days before they are repaired. The road conditions in many places leave much to be desired, especially in the rainy season or post-monsoon. Traffic being heavy on major roads, genuine mistakes are commonplace around traffic intersections.

These conditions call of lighter punishment to offenders, it is argued by many and, perhaps, rightly so. An offense like expired pollution certificate invites steep penalty. Is there a justification for a steep fine for its violation? What about government agencies like the municipal corporations themselves causing large scale pollution? Are they fined?

Gadkari ‘s logic that steep fines would be a deterrent to offenders does carry weight. After all, thousands of innocent lives are lost on account of traffic violations. But all offenders, perhaps, need not be put in the same category and imposed a similar penalty. A first time offender needs leniency. For the second and third time offense, punishments must be steep in gradations. In the case of a habitual offender, the steepest punishments should be imposed, like permanently canceling his/her driving licence apart from other punishments.

The quantum of punishments should also differ from place to place.  In metro cities with huge traffic, the laws must be stringent. In smaller cities and towns,  the same offenses should invite lesser or reduced fine. This is because the chances of accidents in smaller towns are less than that in metro cities. In other words,  cities and towns should be graded in terms of volumes of traffic and penalty amounts reduced, accordingly.

A surprisingly large number of vehicles, including two-wheelers,three-wheelers, and four-wheelers, in cities are without complete documentation as demanded by law. If the police were to check them strictly, there would be chaos in town. It is something that the authorities are well aware of. An awareness drive is what is required first before pouncing on them.

There is one category of traffic crime, however, where no mercy should be shown—drunken driving. Thousands of people lose their lives on account of drunken driving. This is an onerous task for the police, though. Similarly, underage driving is another scourge where well-to-do educated parents are to blame. The new laws rightly put the blame on parents who must be hauled up for allowing their underage wards to drive.

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