September 5, 2019 / 1:05 PM / 10 days ago

Outraged Indians lampoon government over steep rise in traffic fines

BENGALURU (Reuters) - Many Indians have ridiculed a sharp increase in traffic fines this week, lampooning the poor state of roads and joking that the revenue from the fines would soon exceed that from taxes.

A traffic police officer uses a device to fine a driver for breaking traffic rules in Mumbai, September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

The government hopes to bring order to India’s often chaotic roads with a tenfold increase in fines for more serious offences to between 5,000 rupees ($70) and 100,000 rupees ($1,400).

The new fines went into effect on Sunday.

They come as economic growth has slumped to a six-year low, and government data shows a slowdown in the growth of goods and services tax (GST) collections, raising the prospect that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will miss its fiscal deficit target this year.

“If the traffic police and government became half efficient in collecting fines for traffic violations, it will easily cross the GST and IT (income tax) collections,” said one Twitter user.

Another Twitter user joked: “At this rate Govt. can abolish GST & concentrate on traffic fines.”

Media reported a tractor driver in Gurugram - near the capital, New Delhi - had to cough up here 59,000 rupees ($820) in fines for 10 violations, while a rickshaw driver separately was hit with fines that were nearly twice here the cost of his vehicle.

“India’s fiscal deficit will soon turn into a fiscal surplus,” said another Twitter user, referring to the rate at which the government was raking in traffic fines.

The size of the fines is particularly concerning in a country where the per capita monthly income is only 10,500 rupees ($147).

But officials say the heavy fines are needed to improve safety in a country where more than 100,000 people are killed and nearly 500,000 injured every year in road accidents.

“Shouldn’t people’s lives be saved? There should be respect for the law,” Nitin Gadkari, minister for road transport and highways, told the ANI news agency.

Gadkari himself though was not spared on social media, with some quick to repost old images of him riding a scooter without a helmet.

People also posted pictures of huge potholes and asked what his department was doing to fix them.

An artist had his video go viral here this week, after he dressed up as an astronaut and pretended to moonwalk across potholed roads in the tech hub of Bengaluru.

“Should we pay fines for these roads? Or at least is the govt going to pay our hospital bills?” said another Twitter post, with an image of a man falling off a scooter on a flooded road.

Reporting by Derek Francis in Bengaluru; Editing by Euan Rocha

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