Pruning the VIP culture
Removal of red beacons must be a beginning
The Union Cabinet's decision to remove red beacons from the vehicles of all functionaries of the Centre and the States, other than emergency vehicles, is a symbolic but significant gesture. Crucially, the decision conforms to the long-felt demand from the general public that ostentatious VIP culture should be trimmed down, if it cannot be ended. The Prime Minister's tweet which said, “Every Indian is special, every Indian is a VIP”, speaks volumes about his strong connect with the masses which helps him feel the inconvenience they undergo to make way for VIPs riding in cars, with flashing red lights and hooters. In fact, the Government had been mulling this option for quite some time now, especially since the matter had reached the doors of the Supreme Court, which, in 2013, ruled that the use of beacons was a “menace to society” and must be restricted to only constitutional authorities. However, the Union Cabinet's decision took everyone by pleasant surprise because none had expected that the red beacon would be removed without exception. People were reconciled to seeking the red beacon being allowed to be used for highest dignitaries like the Prime Minister, the President and the Chief Justice of India, among others. But the Government has gone a step ahead by ruling that no exceptions would be made. To ensure that this rule gets applied uniformly across the country, so that States do not have the leverage to tweak them, the Centre has called for amendments to the motor vehicle rules that will plug the loopholes. Crucially, Rule 108 of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, which says that the Centre or a State can nominate dignitaries for vehicles that can be driven with red beacons, will be abolished. This will mean that only emergency services can use blue flashing lights.
Admittedly, although without exceptions, this still remains a symbolic move. There's a lot more that needs to be done and should be done to dilute or completely end the criticism against VIP culture. For example, people often face hardships on the roads when VIP convoys move. Roads are blocked, routes of the dignitary are sanitised, essentials services suffer and people have to keep waiting long hours until the roads are thrown open to them after the VIP movement is over. One of the recent incidents which grew angry reactions from people was of an ambulance carrying an injured child, which was bloacked by policemen because a leader’s convoy had to pass by. Such was the fetish for the lal batti that it had given rise to a new business where fake beacons were being sold and purchased at a minimal price of Rs 2,500 at various car accessory shops. A fake beacon really worked wonders — traffic got cleared instantly, toll plaza barriers were lifted, duty officers would stand up to salute. And the ‘best’ part is that nobody would dare stop the ‘VIP car’ and question on the beacon, because that would mean real trouble for the officer. This kind of road blockading must end. However, one must keep in mind security implications too. There are many other ways to manage security of our dignitaries, which must not be compromised. It can be done without causing inconvenience to the commuters. The red beacon removal is just the beginning to end the maharaja culture. More should happen.
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