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The Motor Vehicles Act

The Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) 2019, came into effect on 1 September this year, after its approval by both the houses of the parliament in the month of July and getting a presidential signature on 9 August. The Act has challenged the Centre-State relationship, while facing its own issues, as more and more states are declining to either accept it in totality or are diluting its stiffer and heftier provisions under rising popular criticism.

While concerns, reluctance, or opposition to the recently amended MVA 2019 with comprehensive and elaborate features that replaced the outdated Act passed in the year 1988 could be accepted or even justified, refusal to implement the Act by BJP-ruled states like Gujarat begs a closer examination of the Act itself as well as the reasons behind the states' positions.

The MVA 2019 also appears to be exposing the internal political dynamics of the BJP, which is now in power, as Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari appears to be acting alone in this whole situation. He is the sole minister in the Modi cabinet speaking out in favour of the Act; all other ministers have remained silent. A central government policy, initiative, or decision is not being collectively supported for the first time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP-led NDA government took office in 2014, and even the BJP-ruled states are defying the federal government.

While some BJP-ruled states, such as Maharashtra and Jharkhand, have delayed enacting the new Act because they must have assembly elections in the coming months, other states, such as Karnataka and Uttarakhand, are undoubtedly fearful of the outrage of the populace.

Let's start by assessing the Act's advantages and disadvantages. In his capacity as Minister in Charge of Road Transport and Highways, Gadkari steered the MVA 2019 through parliament and defended it by asserting that "people need to have a fear of the law." "The nation needs to start considering ways to save lives. 65 percent of the 1,50,000 people killed on highways each year are between the ages of 18 and 35. Neither terrorist attacks nor riots have claimed their lives. He argued that the goal of the new law was to save lives. Gadkari emphasised that saving lives is the new Act's primary goal.

According to figures from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, there were 1.47 lakh fatalities in road accidents in 2017, out of a total of 4.65 lakh accidents. Over a third of all traffic accidents included two-wheelers.

Based on the suggestions of the Group of Transport Ministers from States, the MVA has some honourable qualities in addition to protecting valuable lives. People who volunteered to provide medical or non-medical assistance to accident victims in the past faced numerous issues that were both civil and criminal in character.

The modified Act now includes a definition of a good samaritan as a person acting in good faith with the intention of closing this loophole that previously discouraged people from offering assistance. Such a person provides free of charge and without any expectation of compensation, emergency medical or non-medical aid to a victim at the scene of an accident. Such a person is exempt from civil or criminal liability for any harm to or death of an accident victim brought on by their carelessness or incapacity to aid the victim.

If a motor vehicle has a flaw that could endanger the driver, the environment, or other road users, the MVA has given the federal government the authority to force its recall. The recall vehicle's maker will be forced to either provide the purchasers a full refund of their purchase price or to give them a comparable or better vehicle in place of the faulty one. The Act includes provisions for creating a road safety board or formulating a national road transportation policy.

With the stated intention of preventing, controlling, reducing, or even completely eliminating traffic accidents, the introduction of harsh fines for drunk driving, driving without a licence, dangerous driving, overspeeding, etc., has outraged the public and brought the MVA into disrepute on social media.

Undoubtedly, there is a perception of excess in the punishments, such as the increase from Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000 for drunk driving or the Rs 5,000 charge for driving without a valid licence. For a third offence within three years of the first, the penalty has been increased to imprisonment up to two years and/or a fee of Rs 10,000. Previously, the penalty for risky driving was imprisonment of over six months to a year and/or a fine of Rs 1,000. The Act also includes heavy fines for a variety of infractions, including failure to possess pollution control certificates.

This part of the newly revised Act, which is based on the idea that harsher punishments, more coercive measures, and a strong hand may improve society or transform people into law-abiding citizens, is what has caused public opposition to the new law.

States are being forced to adopt a position that is perceived as being anti-Centre due to a loss of popular support. Since the newly amended Act is a model Act that needs to be adopted by states in accordance with the particular requirements and existing circumstances, not only opposition ruled states but even BJP ruled states are taking time to adopt it fully or with changes. This is because road-transport and law and order are included in the state list of subjects in the Constitution. The federalist approach does provide states this much leeway or space to navigate their unique ships of governance, even though some states might decide not to embrace the model Act.

Regardless of the political motivations behind the senior BJP leadership's silence, leaving Gadkari to fight his own battle, the positions adopted by different states on the MVA are a perfect example of cooperative federalism in action. It would be regrettable if the Modi administration issued a whip ordering states to fully enact the federal law.

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