By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
Although it is difficult for me to say since when, the flashing red beacon atop a white car has over the years evolved as the most obvious, although very often the illegal symbol of importance and power in our country. In the days of my childhood I used to see only Ministers and Police officers of the highest ranks having these flashing lights atop their cars. But over the years I have observed that there has been a rapid proliferation of these beacons with almost every other government car having one on its roof irrespective of who rides under it. Perhaps encouraged by the importance given even by the Police personnel, to vehicles with this very visible adornment, many self-proclaimed VIPs have cropped up all over our country who have begun moving around in such cars.
Very often, on seeing one such car I have wondered who the high and mighty occupant might be only to discover from the semicircular green board on the bumper that the person seated inside is actually the President of the Zilla Panchayat , the local municipality or even the self-styled head of a local vigilante group. I have also observed the heads of many religious institutions routinely moving in cars with red beacons. Since most of these lights come with a magnetic base, I am told that many supporters of political leaders keep them handy in their cars so that they can quickly mount one on the roof and join the motorcades of their mentors whenever there is a need to instantly augment their manpower!
A car with a red beacon draws immediate attention in our country. On many occasions I have seen Traffic Policemen at intersections snapping to attention and smartly saluting passing Police cars with red lights only to realise sheepishly a second later that the rear seat is unoccupied! The lone driver often obliges by acknowledging with a smile the salute meant for his missing boss! Interestingly, when you consider the break-neck speed at which almost all cars with red lights move, this magic light apart from imparting instant importance to the occupant also seems to have the ability to infuse some sudden horsepower into the most anaemic engines!
More often than not, cars with read beacons have become the objects of much public ire and irritation because they impede the smooth movement of traffic on our already congested roads. They dangerously wriggle in and out of orderly lanes or jut in suddenly at busy intersections with a complete disregard to traffic rules and lights. We regularly see people cursing such vehicles although they cannot do anything more than that. But thankfully this drama may end very soon with our Prime Minister’s recent announcement that the Parliament has decided to do away with red beacons atop cars ferrying VIPs and political big-wigs. It is indeed a step in the right direction. Thankfully this ban covers all our Chief Ministers and all members of their cabinets too.
Here a question comes to my mind. What is our country going to do with the thousands of red beacons that are now going to get displaced from our VIP cars? Any takers? Some years ago the Supreme Court had issued a similar edict restricting the use of red beacons on vehicles of all but the topmost functionaries of the government. But in a strange act of self-gratification it had allowed their use on the vehicles of most Judges. This exclusion from the ban seemed discriminatory and even unnecessary considering the fact that Judges, however high have no need to rush anywhere in a great hurry unlike ambulances and Police personnel.
The SC order surprisingly had extended the ban even to Police vehicles which are the ones which need to have them most to gain immediate and uninterrupted access to areas that need quick Police intervention. The result was that many Police officers in many States had started using blue beacons instead of red to announce their presence. This was perhaps a way of legally over-riding the ban which only spoke of red lights while remaining silent about lights of other hues! This time the government would do well to clearly permit Police departments the use of red beacons because it is the Police personnel on duty who need the instant thoroughfare that a red beacon grants. Nothing can deter trouble-makers and make them disperse more quickly than the shrill siren and the flashing red light of the Police patrol car. Even as it turns the bend it tells them from a distance that it is time to wind up their act.
All Deputy Commissioners and District Magistrates too should get this privilege as they too are often required to rush to scenes of disasters and interact with Police, Ambulance and Fire fighting personnel. Very strangely, although we have all seen our Ministers and politicians rushing at break-neck speed in their cars with red beacons we have never once seen them reaching anywhere on time! Have you given a thought to why this is so? Whenever a function or a public programme is delayed it is always because a politician or a Minister is delayed.
Very often little school children are made to wait for hours in the hot sun for this reason. Is it not time we changed this scenario? In addition to banning red beacons I think our Prime Minister should also ban the long motorcades that accompany our Ministers whenever they drive across the countryside. Even if a Chief Minister decides to visit his ailing relative or Cabinet colleague his motorcade has to have a convoy of at least two dozen vehicles including the mandatory ambulance and the half a dozen Police vehicles. It is such a waste of public money and it serves no purpose. But our Ministers love it simply because they enjoy the importance it gives them. When our PM has now announced that every Indian is a VIP why should India have this class difference? Do think about it.
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