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Necessary Law

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There are the headline-grabbing crimes that arouse public ire, such as gang rape and murder, with demands being rightly made that swift and harsh punishment be meted out to the perpetrators! However, despite such crimes taking a severe toll on society, there are others that are even more severe in terms of lives lost – those that result from bad and negligent driving practices. In India, around 1.5 lakh deaths take place on the roads because of accidents, a disproportionately large number of which are because of bad driving, speeding and poorly maintained vehicles. The condition of the roads and traffic mis-management also play a role, but these can be compensated for by careful driving, if the intent is there. Deaths on the roads not only are terrible human tragedies, devastating entire families, but also have a severe impact on the GDP. Bad driving practices have to be stopped if this huge cost is to be averted. The manifold increase in penalties under the new Motor Vehicles Act has caused a stir in society, which had become quite used to breaking the laws as unconscious behaviour because of the small fines, earlier. The response of many has been surprising – they are demanding these fines be reduced as a ‘right’, believing that transgressions on the roads are minor and deserve only a symbolic rap on the knuckles. Clearly these people hold human life cheap. Then there are those who point out the poor road conditions and traffic chaos and demand that those responsible should be just as severely penalised. They have a point, but the argument does not let them off the hook! Consider the cases that have emerged after the new penalties came into force. Police have booked persons who have broken so many laws that the penalty has amounted to twice, even thrice, the cost of the vehicle! One auto-rickshaw driver, who was initially stopped for jumping a red light, was found to be drunk, without a licence, registration papers, pollution under control certificate and insurance, as well as driving an unfit vehicle. Several such cases are being reported every day as the roads are full of such users. Going by the reported rush to obtain pollution certificates in Dehradun, it becomes amply clear how stringent punishment also helps generate awareness among people. There is, of course, the small matter of corrupt law enforcers. The joke making the rounds is that police personnel are rushing to join the traffic wing, because the price for avoiding challans has suddenly gone up for every violator! The government must go the extra mile to ensure enforcement of the law is not undone by greasy hands.