Railing against “very harsh” penalties for traffic violations and raising the question of federalism, West Bengals Mamata Banerjee government has announced the new Motor Vehicles Act (MVA), 2019, passed by Parliament, will not be implemented in the state.
Banerjee herself has publicly articulated her government’s opposition to the stringent provisions in the central legislation piloted by Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari.
According to Banerjee, the Act would “overburden the people” particularly the poorer sections, with its steep fines and other penal provisions.
Under the new Act, the fine for driving without helmet has been raised to Rs 1,000 from Rs 100, alongside a three-month disqualification of licence. For not wearing a seatbelt, the penalty has gone up to Rs 1,000.
There are also jail provisions for more serious offences, which so far attracted only a fine.
Banerjee said: “Levying heavy penalty on the people is not the solution. The problem has to be seen from the humanitarian point of view. Can poor people afford such steep fines?”
Accusing the Central government of passing the legislation “unilaterally”, Banerjee has pointed out that her party Trinamool Congress opposed it during the parliamentary debate as one which militates against the spirit of federalism.
State Transport Minister Suvendu Adhikari said: “We also have objection to a clause that the company from which you are purchasing a vehicle is entitled to give its fitness certificate.”
Besides, West Bengal transport officials have argued that it was still not clear how the Motor Vehicle Accident Fund, which the Centre has to constitute as per the Act, will be set up.
The Chief Minister, while refusing to enforce the MVA has drawn attention to the statewide “Safe Drive, Save Life” campaign undertaken by her government to reduce road accidents.
“Of course, we will continue with this campaign. Road accidents have come down in our state since we started the campaign,” she said.
As per figures shared by the Chief Minister, after the campaign was launched in 2016, the number of road accidents in Kolkata reduced by 12 per cent in 2018 and by 14 per cent in other areas of the state compared to 2017
The highly visible campaign has attempted to sensitise people about safe driving as also road safety. At every important intersection of the city, the administration has deployed a good number of traffic police personnel and civic volunteers, including women, to ensure discipline among pedestrians.
Police personnel and civic volunteers barricade the pedestrians with ropes thereby preventing them from crossing the roads unruly on their sweet will and allow them only when it is absolutely safe.
A large number of folk artists, schools, local clubs and other organisations have been roped in for the SDSL campaign, that also uses posters depicting scenes from superhit films in Bengali and Hindi, but with the original dialogues making way for fresh ones about traffic rules and road safety.
Banerjee in fact has also taken part in a march, accompanied by ministers, school children and celebrities to underscore the need for safe driving.
Similar programmes have been organised with the participation of eminent people in all the district and block headquarters, 117 municipalities, six municipal corporations and the Gorkha Territorial administration in the northern hills.
Banerjee has announced that a chapter on road safety would be included in the school syllabus.