Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Supreme Court rolls back Delhi High Court additional traffic fine

People who drive in Delhi know the current bad case of Delhi's traffic obeying drivers - there is not a single rule that you can expect drivers or pedestrians to obey; whether this means stopping before the zebra crossing, no talking on the mobile when driving, no drunken driving, stopping at the red light and only crossing on the green, driving the wrong way, giving way to elderly people, and so on. All of these are meant to be broken, and are often broken down.
And why could they do this with impunity ? Well, because say for example, the fine for jumping a red light is only Rs. 100, so most people would calculate the chance of getting caught, or even of having to pay the fine, and they would be fine with doing so. After all, there is only so much that a Rs. 100 is worth nowadays; and mind you, this is only when you actually get caught.
In a classic case of why the judiciary starts to take on policy making powers, the Government dithered this way and that, and did nothing to make fines steeper so that people feel the pinch of the fine and are more careful the next time (as an example, friends who are caught speeding in the United States and have had to pay upwards of Dollars 150 as a fine are very careful from that time onwards; and trust me, in Singapore, you don't want to be caught speeding). No action at all from the side of the Government, till one fine day, the High Court added a minimum of Rs. 500 to every fine, so that even jumping a red light would charge at least Rs. 600. However, this is now a thing of the past:

Red light jumping, the most common violation for which motorists are challaned in the Capital, would cost you Rs 100 and not Rs 600 as the Supreme Court has put back the old penalty system for on-the-spot compounding of traffic offences. The Supreme Court has stayed the March 2007 judgment of the Delhi High Court directing the traffic police to slap an additional Rs 500 fine, over and above the existing penalty, on motorists violating traffic rules.
Though legal experts were unanimous in siding with the apex court's decision to stay the HC order, they also said that the present penalty system for traffic violations was very less and wanted the government to immediately take up measures to revise the amount of fine for the violations. "Otherwise, there would be a definite spurt in traffic violations, especially red light jumping which attract a penalty of Rs 100," they said.

The Supreme Court judgment was correct on legal grounds, even though it does increase the scope for traffic problems in New Delhi. The High Court does not have the power to increase fines, this is a pure policy issue that needs to be handled by the Government, and in my opinion, this is a correct judgment. Of course, the Government does not seem to have this problem of changing the fine structure to be a good deterrence. One wonders what would could move the Government to take steps in this direction.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:34 AM