Why is electronic enforcement for traffic rules illegal ?

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“Oh, no ! I always wear a seat-belt.”,“ Bull*#!, that wasn't me”, “Hey, It wasn’t my car”, “ How is it possible? I have never been there.”, “How come I was charged for driving without a license, I always carry my license”, “Why would I park my bike there if I never travelled there.?”, “My car doesn't have this number plate, man”. 

These few agonizing responses from people who have got an E-challan through close circuit TV cameras. Traffic rule violations largely go unchecked in India because of manpower and resources constraints while the vehicles hitting the roads continue to increase exponentially. Electronic enforcement has now become a common phenomenon in metropolitan cities where enforcement agencies are heavily relying more on  so called contactless  enforcement systems. However, it is not proving to be a deterrent for traffic violators on the road.  

What is electronic enforcement and how is it processed ?

A wide range of ways in which electronic enforcement are carried out by traffic police and Regional Transport Officers (RTOs). They include Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) System, Red Light Violation Detection (RLVD) System, Speed Violation Detection System, App-based System, etc. 

Closed-Circuit Television Cameras installed across cities are integrated with the National Informatics Centres (NIC) platform. This means that when a traffic violation is detected by surveillance cameras, e-challans are automatically processed after validation and simultaneously updated in the vehicle owners’ database at the Regional Transport Officers. But in many cities, the system functions independently of the National Informatics Centres (NIC) platform, violations are detected automatically but the validation and raising of challans is a manual process. E-challan is issued to the owner of the vehicle, then sent to a registered mobile number which is linked to a vehicle during the purchasing and registration of vehicles. Once you are issued a challan, you have 15 days to make the payment at the traffic police website or designated centre empanelled by the police department. If you jump the red light, park your vehicle in an unauthorized place, cross maximum speed limits or commit other traffic violations, you receive an e-challan on your registered mobile phone.

DGP, Mumbai has issued a circular under “One state-one challan” slogan as part of contact less enforcement initiative (Details will be added later).

What are the issues with the electronic enforcement system ?

Electronic enforcement system has been a source of unnecessary trauma to many vehicle owners. 

E-challan is quite vague which does not mention time, date, place, traffic violations, accused section of Motor Vehicles Act, etc. Rather, it comprises a unique challan number, accused vehicle number and web links on which details of violations can be sought.


There are several issues and loopholes in the system:

  • The Motor Vehicles Act specifies the person who is legally responsible for the violations. The legal responsibility is clearly defined in the Act. “For whoever drives a motor vehicle” shall be punishable for any violations. It is the person who is driving the vehicle or behind the wheel and not the owner of the vehicle responsible for the violations. Hence, it is legally untenable to hold the owner of the vehicle as legally responsible for violations.
  • E-challan is sent on a mobile number which is linked to a vehicle during the process of vehicle purchasing and registration. There is no such legal mandate for having a mobile number which can be linked to your vehicle in the Act itself. After 2016, while purchasing a vehicle, the prospective owner of the vehicle must declare/share a functional mobile number which can be linked to the vehicle. Here, there are several questions that need to be answered. 
    • Is it mandatory for a person to possess a mobile or have a functional mobile number? What if any person does not have a mobile, but have purchasing capacity and desire to buy a vehicle? Will he or she be denied for the want of a mobile gadget? 
    • What about vehicles which have been registered before 2016 and not linked to mobile number. ? If vehicles registered before 2016 are involved in traffic violations, how can E-called be processed/sent. 
    • There is no mechanism in place to monitor whether mobile numbers declared/shared during the process of purchasing and registration of vehicles would be functional further. ? 
    • What if a person changes the mobile number after the requirement. ? It can be ensured with commercial vehicles but not for private vehicles. 
    • Legally, the serving of a challan in electronic form, when there is no legal requirement for an owner to have a mobile phone, is not tenable. There is no legal responsibility for the owner to update the mobile number in case it changes or is ceased to be used. 
  • The term SMS does not exist/define in the Act. As per law, there are two methods prescribed. A method of initiating action against a traffic violator - by way of compounding an offence on the spot with mutual agreement by traffic violator and designated office by paying the fine. Also, prosecution by the Court, sending a legal notice through legitimate means. The prosecution by sending a challan or text message on mobile does not fit in either of these categories.
  • The parent Act provides two methods of initiating action against the violator of any traffic rule or regulation – A) Motor Vehicles Act provides for the compounding of traffic offences by imposing fines on the road itself. The offender hereby, acknowledges that he/she has committed a crime and is therefore willing to pay the fine as per the rules. If the police and the offender agree, the person is allowed to leave immediately after paying the fine. 2) The prosecution by a court of law, the accused person feels that he/she has not committed the crime and is being unnecessarily harassed or framed by the enforcement agency, he/she may appear in court (by pleader or in person) or appeal to the court and prove his/her innocence. The process of issuing challans does not fit in either of these two categories. It is not permissible to institute a new process for initiating action against an alleged transgressor, without any such powers being granted by the parent Act. Electronic enforcement cannot presume that the accused consented to compound the offence, and hence must provide the option of appearing in court to contest the charges. 
  • E-challan through electronic enforcement, are generally issued for violations which are compounding offences like no use of seat belt/helmet, jumping red light, speeding,  illegal parking,  zebra crossing, etc. E-challan that is issued by the enforcement agency, can only be considered permissible within the ambit of section 200. However, the compounding of any offence “is conditional upon the willingness of the accused to have the offences compounded”, as clarified by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in P. Ratnakar Rao vs Govt of Andhra Pradesh and Ors. . E-challan issued, is presumed that the alleged violator has no option but to pay the fine, without being given any recourse to challenge the accusation. Most of the challan issued for violations of are compounding offences which need to be sorted out or hushed up  between violator and designated enforcement officer. The E-challan system does not provide an opportunity for the violator to take legal remedies.  

 

  • Proportion of paying fines through electronic enforcement is too low.  Through Right to Information (RTI) reply received by Parisar, it has been found out that During January to December 2020, challans paid by traffic violators in Nashik district is (16.29%), in Nagpur (13.66%) and in Pune (16.01%). It shows that a vast majority of violators are not paying penalties and getting away scot-free. Due to this, The state Government is losing a huge amount of revenues which can be utilized for road safety schemes and projects. As per media reports, traffic challans of more than 700 crore are unpaid across Maharashtra till November 2020. 
  • Electronic enforcement systems by nature, create habitual traffic offenders. If a person violates traffic rules and is caught then and there itself, it will prove a deterrent to him. If he/she is allowed to flout rules till caught randomly, it is not serving the purpose and detrimental to road safety. 
  • There is no penalised action taken on the owner of vehicles if fines are not paid within a time frame. There is no robust mechanism that can identify or trace and make violators pay the fines. If a violator is caught randomly, all dues are forcefully collected at one go which is arbitrary and not pocket friendly to common citizens. It most of the time proves to be an inconvenience and creates strife between enforcement agencies and violators.     
  • The E-challan system has in innumerable cases registered incorrect offences some of which are listed below:
    • The registration plate of the vehicle is incorrectly entered and hence a challan is issued against the wrong vehicle and hence the wrong owner.
    • Though there is a rule, all vehicle registration plates are not standardised. Hence, the automatic number plate recognition system does not recognise the vehicle number always and is bound to make errors. 
    • There are instances where forged or duplicate registration plates are used, and the legitimate owner of the vehicle gets the notice
  • Grievance redress mechanism is part and parcel of the machinery of any administration. No administration can claim to be accountable, responsive and user-friendly unless it has established an efficient and effective grievance redress mechanism. In fact, the grievance redress mechanism of an organization is the gauge to measure its efficiency and effectiveness as it provides opportunity for the community to address the issue in an amicable manner. There is no such system in place about the electronic enforcement system and the onus of resolving it largely rests on the innocent people.  

What is the remedy ?

Supreme Court Committee on Road safety (CoRS) has been interacting with state road safety lead agencies and suggesting use of technology with a view to reduce road crashes

With the introduction of the New Motor Vehicles Act of 2019, the Government of India has focused on the integration of new technology, stricter enforcement and higher penalties, to ensure improved road safety. As part of its initiative to integrate technology for increased road safety and to curtail corruption, the government has also adopted various Intelligence Traffic Management Systems (ITMS) for traffic monitoring, surveillance, enforcement and penalisation. However, rules are yet to be prescribed. Maharashtra has not yet issued compounding notification which notifies increased fines. 

However, the solution lies in the promoting and implementing of traditional on-road visible, sustained and widespread enforcement strategically carried out by enforcement agencies. The most effective method of reducing road crashes is through high visibility enforcement. When the perceived risk of getting caught on the road by law enforcement agencies goes up, the likelihood that people will engage in unsafe driving behaviours goes down. 

Police personnel standing on the road bear respect in the minds of people. It makes people think twice to violate rules. Visible enforcement also brings disciplined behaviour among the violators. Visible, consistent and widespread enforcement also minimise roadway crimes like stolen/uninsured vehicles, kidnapping, smuggling of illegal weapons and contrabands, driving under influence(DUI), petty crimes, etc.  

It is well understood that technology helps in planning, designing and implementation which would produce wonderful results in no time. But our enforcement agencies are failing to handle even elementary technology. No doubt, police personnel lack capacity building training on gaining digital literacy and being technical savvy. But are we really trying to pluck loopholes in the overall enforcement strategies ? Road safety funds are diverted to procure sophisticated, exorbitant equipment wherein politicians are interested in kickback and share. But will they support enforcement agencies to carry out their duty on the road ? It is also an opportunity for lawmakers to frame rules and regulation to make it more legal, data-driven, scientific and fool-proof. 

The complete reliance on e-enforcement is a problem - in terms of its effectiveness, the operational issues and the weak legal mandate. In India, we need to have on-road enforcement with e-enforcement as an additional method. An enforcement policy should decide what are the best cases, locations, geographies where e-enforcement makes sense, instead of using it everywhere and for all traffic violations. Several other weak links in the system need to be fixed before greater reliance can be placed on this system. This includes not only strengthening the legal provisions, but also ensuring an updated and nationally linked database, compliance with proper number plates and capacity building of the enforcement agencies to be able to use such technology.

The electronic enforcement system is messy. It is time for the enforcement agencies to introspect and question the illegitimate adopted system. Do we really need to resort to electronic enforcement or is it to falsely imitate that we are technically advanced ? Are we failing in what we are supposed to do ? Is it proving to be a deterrent to traffic violators ? Is it really working out efficiently ? Is it a sly way to shrug off responsibilities to discharge the official duty and flog the dead horse ? Unless we find these answers, we will continue to fight a lost battle. 

- Sandeep Gaikwad, Senior Associate, Parisar

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