Op-Ed: State Govt’s Credo: Act First, Think Later

Act first, think later. That has long been the way the state government has gone about its business of running Odisha. Let us take only two recent examples. Having first tom-tommed the KALIA scheme for faremers as a ‘game changer’ and ‘a model for the rest of the country’ and having reaped its benefits in the April elections, the state government has now realized that the names of many undeserving people had crept into the list of 52 lakh beneficiaries and initiated a process of elimination, which had already identified around 3 lakh such beneficiaries at last count. The dangers of precisely something like this happening had been pointed out by several sections, including the opposition parties, even as the ‘game changer’ was being rolled out. But bent on getting a fifth successive term in office, the BJD government would have none of it. It went ahead full steam only to concede the point after three months. Next, the government began the demolition around the Shree Jagannath temple without announcing a compensation package or holding formal discussions with the stakeholders, only to do both after the exercise met with stiff resistance.

And now, the same is happening in the case of the implementation of the amended Motor Vehicles Act. After having spread panic among driving commuters by its ‘strict’ implementation of the Act since it came into effect on September 1, it has now backtracked in the face of the collective anger among the driving public ,which expectedly spilled over onto the streets at Rajmahal Square in Bhubaneswar on Saturday afternoon. Transport authorities announced yesterday that commuters will not be penalized for non-possession of Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificates till the end of the month. They also said that in case of multiple violations, fine will be collected only for the offence that attracts the maximum penalty and not for all violations. This was clearly necessitated by the outrage over the imposition of a whopping Rs 47, 500 fine on auto rickshaw driver Hadibandhu Kanhar and similar high value fines on others. [It was amusing to see the Twin City commissioner clarify that the police did not collect any fine above Rs. 1000 and it is RTO authorities who are doing it!]

It has to be admitted that the fines under the new Act are harsh to the point of being blood-sucking. But since it has been passed by the Parliament, the august forum that reflects the will of the people, one does not really have a choice other than obeying the new rules. Despite the Shylockian nature of the penalty, there can be no two opinions that the intentions behind the introduction of the new rules – minimizing accidents and deaths caused by them – are unexceptionable. Road accidents kill far too many people in India – and even more so in Odisha. But the government should have anticipated the angry reaction among the people and prepared them adequately and diligently for this.

For whatever it is worth, here is my two penny on how the government should have gone about the business of  implementing the new provisions. Since the Act was to be implemented from September 1, it should have initiated an extensive awareness campaign since August 1, if not earlier using every available forum – newspapers, radio, TV, social media, public meetings and so on – to prepare the people for it (rather than initiating one three days after implementing the Act in letter and spirit). Simultaneously, RTO authorities should have set up single-window clearance centres at various places to allow people to procure the required documents to avoid the kind of mad rush we are witnessing at RTO offices now. The one-month window given to the people to procure PUC certificates should have begun on August 1 and adequate number of testing centres set up before that (rather than creating the conditions for endless, serpentine queues at the handful of authorized centres available). And last but not the least, the announcement that commuters will be fined only for the violation that attracts the maximum penalty too should have been made on August 1. If all these things had been done in an oraganised manner, there is little doubt that we would not have witnessed the anger and panic that we are seeing now.

The state government could also have announced, like several other states have done, that it was postponing the ‘strict’ implementation of the new Act for a month to prepare the people for it. The heavens would not have fallen if it was implemented on October 1 instead of September 1. It is not as if it did not have any option in the matter as the comedown on the PUC and other provisions shows. In being overzealous in implementing the provisions of the amended Act, it unwittingly created the conditions for the present mess.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)