By Quaid Najmi
Nagpur (Maharashtra), Sep 11 (IANS) The hefty penalties imposed under the new Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) are "blatantly anti-people" and have the potential to spur suicides, the Maharashtra farmers panel chief warned here on Wednesday.
Kishore Tiwari, Chairman of Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM), who enjoys a Cabinet minister rank in Maharashtra, said: "The financial penalties have been opposed by all people in the country, especially the middle-class. From all accounts we are hearing and reading in the media, it is turning out to be an anti-people move."
Calling upon Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari to "immediately slash" the steep penalties to reasonable levels, Tiwari cautioned that it has the potential to drive commoners to suicide if it is thrust upon them.
"It must be noted here that Gujarat -- which is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party President (BJP) and Union Home Minister Amit Shah -- has voluntarily reduced the new MVA penalties drastically. This proves that even the BJP-ruled states are against the revised fines," Tiwari told IANS.
He wondered whether Gadkari will take a cue from Gujarat as "it broadly implies that both the Prime Minister and Home Minister may be having second thoughts on the new penalties in view of the ugly public mood".
Interestingly, Maharashtra's Transport Minister Diwakar Raote -- who is from Shiv Sena -- has so far remained non-committal on implementing the new MVA rules in toto, amid murmurs of discontent within his own party.
Reluctant to antagonise the masses ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections in October, Raote has referred the matter for the opinion of the state Law Department.
"There are apprehensions even among the RTO field staffers over its implementation.... RTO staffers trying to implement the new laws have been abused, assaulted, people dump their vehicles and walk away, one woman suffered a heart attack after she was penalised and many other incidents," said an RTO officer from Mumbai, requesting anonymity.
When pointed out that recently, Gadkari himself revealed that he too was fined for zooming across the Rajiv Gandhi Bandra Worli Sea Link (RGBWSL) in Mumbai, Tiwari laughed and said "the common masses cannot be compared with any minister".
"If a minister coughs up a fine of Rs 10,000-Rs 20,000, it matters little to him. But if a similar fine is slapped on an ordinary taxi or tempo driver who may barely earn that much salary in a month, his family would starve and the man would resort to suicide," Tiwari pointed out.
Terming the new MVA penalties as "totally absurd and forced upon the country without consulting all stakeholders," Tiwari said this could have wider economic implications in the future with disastrous consequences on the already groaning economy.
"Already, the automobile industry is in a deep mess, truckers' associations have announced a ban on buying new trucks for five years... Now, even the common people, especially the middle-classes, will stop buying new vehicles," said Tiwari who is working among the farmers in the worst suicide-affected areas in Maharashtra since 25 years.
With growing taxes, inflation, unemployment, high fuel prices and now the new traffic penalties, the common people are already switching over to bicycles, he claimed.
"Given the current economic scenario, does Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman or Gadkari believe all this augurs well for the country and fragile economy? What about the corruption it will breed on the roads, despite claims of 'transparency' made by Gadkari?" Tiwari asked.
He urged Minister Raote "not to succumb" to any pressures and reduce all the "loot in the name of MVA fines" to the "below Rs 100 bracket" with stringent implementation.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at email@example.com)