Centre-State relations: The MVA angle

Reading time: 6-7 minutes.

Amendments to Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 came into effect on 1 September, 2019. These recommendations have been given by a group of Transport Ministers of States.

The idea of these amendments was to deter individuals from violating traffic rules. After this amendment, the penalties for  driving an uninsured vehicle, causing obstruction to free flow of traffic, racing and speeding, drunk driving, dangerous driving, over speeding,  driving without qualification, driving without a license have significantly increased.

This has however received criticism from the common people that the government  should first improve the road infrastructure and facilities associated with it. A lot of state governments also find these new penalties unreasonable and a burden for the common man of the country.

Introduction: Gujarat slashes fines under MVA

 BJP ruled Gujarat has slashed the fines by up to 90% for some offences even though the Centre tried to justify the reason for increasing the fines by substantial amounts.

The new fines in Gujarat will come in force from September 16. The fines for offences like drunken driving and jumping traffic lights will remain the same as they cannot be altered but the offences for which fines have been reduced are – not fastening the sea belt, pillion rider not wearing a helmet, dangerous driving for the first time and  having an unregistered vehicle.

There are claims that fines have been reduced by taking a compassionate and humanitarian approach and the idea is not to collect penalty but to ensure that people are safe. The fines were imposed just to have a deterrent effect on people and in the long run for their own welfare. There are certain offences where upper limit has been mentioned and the amounts can be reduced whereas for some other offences the amount cannot be altered.

Other states like  Karnataka, Bihar, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand  have shown dissent over these increased penalties and will follow Gujarat’s suit. Opposition ruled states like Madhya Pradesh and West- Bengal have refused to implement the new fines according to the amendments completely. However, no fines will be slashed by Delhi government as they think traffic violation is a major concern that can be taken care of by imposing stricter penalties.

Centre-State relations under the Constitution

The executive, financial and legislative power between the Centre and the states has been divided by the Constitution of India which gives the Constitution a federal structure. Centre- State legislative relations are stated in Part 11 of the Constitution from Article 245 to 255 of the Constitution.

The legislative authority has been divided between the Centre and the States in three lists namely Concurrent List, Union List and State list. The Central government has exclusive right to make laws on  99 subjects enumerated under the Union list like defence, posts, armed forces, communications and foreign affairs. The State government has exclusive jurisdiction to make laws on the 61 subjects in the state list like police, prison, agriculture, local government and public order.

Both the parliament and state legislatures can make laws in respect to subjects enlisted in concurrent list but the claim of centre has a prior claim to legislate on these subjects. The law of parliament prevails when there is a conflict between the law of centre and state on a subject in the concurrent list. This list includes 52 subjects like criminal and civil procedure, population, family planning, education, electricity, newspapers and books. The residuary power to decide on a subject not listed in any of these three lists is vested with the union.

Tussle over differences in matters of common jurisdiction: Article 254

Article 254 of the Constitution deals with inconsistencies between laws made by Parliament and laws made by the legislature of the states.

If any law made by the state is inconsistent with the law that the parliament is competent to enact or any matter enumerated in the concurrent list then the law made by the parliament will prevail and the law made by the state legislature to that extent will be void.

When a law is made by the state legislature with respect to a matter enlisted in the concurrent list is repugnant to the provision made by the Parliament or any existing law, then the law if reserved for the consideration of President, shall prevail if received the assent of President. This clause shall not prevent Parliament from enacting laws on that matter including a law to amend, vary or repeal the law.

Probable future of this issue

Since the Motor Vehicle Act is in our concurrent list and both state and Centre have the right to formulate laws in this aspect, states are free to make  changes.  Where the fines are mentioned as up to, the fines can be lowered by the respective governments.

However where the penalties are fixed at a certain amount, these amounts cannot be lowered by the state governments. Even for offences that are in the category of compoundable offences, the state can decide on the quantum of penalties.

Conclusion

The insane penalties imposed on some people have been making headlines lately. There have been incidents where people and police have clashed on the streets as well. Amidst all, one thing that people have ignored in these incidents are the various laws that these people were violating.

India sees over 5 lakh accidents per year which results in 1.5 lakh accident deaths annually. Majority of these people are among the age group of 18 – 45 years which is the productive group for the country. Most of the vehicles involved in an accident are two wheelers.

The Union government believes that these accidents can be reduced and deaths prevented  since majority of the accidents are because of lack of respect and fear for laws framed. The result of this law is already visible as there is an increase in people applying for driving license and pollution check already. Slashing penalties by 90% in this case will not fetch any results that were intended by the Central government. 

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Shreya Bansal from Jindal Global Law School, Haryana

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