Mumbai is underwater as a result of heavy monsoon showers, and along expected lines, there is chaos on the roads with many commuters left stranded. However, for one Mumbaikar, who decided to help stranded passengers last week by offering them a lift, things took an unexpected turn.
Nitin Nair, an executive with a financial consultancy firm in Navi Mumbai, was fined by the traffic police near the Airoli Circle when he offered three stranded commuters, including a senior citizen, a lift in his car on June 18.
In his Facebook post, Nitin alleged that the traffic police told him to stop his car, and submit his driving licence, which was subsequently confiscated. Speaking to The Better India, Nitin said that the police neither interrogated the passengers in his car nor asked them to disembark.
“One traffic police officer in a towing vehicle waylaid me and asked me to show him my license. At first, I thought that probably I stopped in a no parking area. The police officer then started to write a receipt and asked me to hand over my license to him. I asked him for the reason, to which he said ‘it is illegal to give a lift to unknown people’.
I thought that he must be just making it up and wants some money on the side. But he was serious. He took my license and gave me the receipt. He asked me to go to the police station next day, pay the fine, and get my license back,” Nitin wrote.
When Nitin went to the police station the next day, he was directed to a local court where he was charged under section 66/192 of the Motor Vehicle Act.
Last Friday, and four days after a challan was served, Nair went to court, admitted to his ‘mistake’, fined Rs 1500 instead of Rs 2,000 minimum fine for the said offence and retrieved his licence.
As per Section 66(1) of the MV Act, it is an offence to offer strangers lift in a private vehicle.
“No owner of a motor vehicle shall use or permit the use of the vehicle as a transport vehicle in any public place whether or not such vehicle is actually carrying any passengers or goods save in accordance with the conditions of a permit granted or countersigned by a Regional or State Transport Authority or any prescribed authority authorising him the use of the vehicle in that place in the manner in which the vehicle is being used,” read the section.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, a senior traffic police officer said that not all motorists who offer lifts are subjected to such penalties, but only those who are suspected of charging money for it.
“Only a vehicle with a yellow number plate (tourist vehicle) can charge passengers. We have observed that drivers charge anywhere between ₹30 to ₹50 for dropping people to Panvel, Belapur, Kharghar and Vashi from Airoli junction,” the traffic police officer told the publication.
Although the said traffic police officer is going by the rule book, he should have used his discretion once passengers in the car confirmed Nitin’s version of events. Stranded in heavy rain, Nitin did what any decent citizen would do—help those in need.
Instead, he was sent through the maze of the famed Indian bureaucracy and was compelled to pay a fine. The question isn’t whether the fine was too little or too much, but the overriding narrative of a citizen being penalised by his own government for helping fellow citizens.
“My only reason for writing a post about this incident was to ensure other car owners are aware of this law so that they don’t go through a similar experience,” says Nitin.
This incident seems even more unusual considering the public discourse on Good Samaritans.
In March 2016, the apex court gave its assent to guidelines issued by the Centre-backed committee for the protection of Good Samaritans at the hands of the police or any other authority.
Meanwhile, in the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on April 10, 2017, but remains stranded in the Rajya Sabha, Good Samaritans are offered institutional protection for helping fellow citizens caught in road accidents.
Going by the bill’s definition, a Good Samaritan “means a person, who in good faith, voluntarily and without expectation of any reward or compensation renders emergency medical or non-medical care or assistance at the scene of an accident to the victim or transporting such victim to the hospital.”
In Nitin’s example, none of three passengers he picked up were caught in an actual road accident but were in desperate need of assistance in difficult circumstances.
Given the circumstances, the system has seemingly put Nitin through unnecessary hassles for giving a lift to unknown persons and using his car as a passenger car.
Fortunately, the experience will not deter Nitin from giving stranded Mumbaikars a lift. “If it’s an emergency situation or someone is stranded in the rains, I will definitely help,” Nitin tells The Better India. The traffic police constable in question has been taken off the field transferred to the administrative section, according to the Times of India.
The next time you decide to give some unknown passengers a lift, remember that the system can impose a fine on you. What do you think? Should we have this provision in our rulebooks?
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)