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'Lal batti' off!

There needs to be a new set of rules to limit the use of beacons to only emergency services, suggests Somesh Goyal.

Lal batti off!
Some are red-faced. Some see red. The harsh truth is that 'lal batti' will be gone from the midnight of April 30, 2017. In a landmark decision, the Modi government has this time delivered the demonetisation blow to the snob value of the VIPs by abolishing the use of beacons atop their cars. Detailed instructions are awaited. Since colonial times, politicians and bureaucrats of all hues and shades have enjoyed this symbol of unquestionable authority which automatically makes accessible a plethora of privileges and freebies besides browbeating others on the road. It is natural for these people to be red-faced. Many such beneficiaries will raise the bogey of security and law & order situation in our country and need for free passage during travel to present their case for the continuation of this shining beacon of authority, arrogance, and privilege at the cost of the common man.

In our feudal system, anybody in any position of power has been identified with his car and the colour of batti on it. One is believed to have arrived socially, economically, and politically if he gets a sarkari car with a lal batti. Nowhere in the world are there elaborate instructions been issued about the colour and type of beacon as is in our beloved motherland. You have beacons of Red, Ember, Blue, and Yellow colour and these come with or without a flasher! Incidentally, the ember beacon was born to circumvent an Apex Court order banning the use of red and blue beacons by so-called VIPs. A VIP with a red beacon with flasher holds higher pedestal than the other VIPs flaunting blue or ember ones. The departmental notes, reasons offered for allowing the use of these beacons, and claims for these beacons by one and all are ridiculous, to say the least, and can be the theme of a comedy show.

People in positions to decide such privileges have arrogated these entitlements shamelessly without assessing functional requirement. Whosoever could frame rules for these battis has ensured that they got the most potent flashers in the brightest of the red. And the worst is that the use of beacons has not stopped with the VIP. It has been extended to the family and the extended family of the VIP. Privileges and entitlements at public places like airports, railway stations, toll plazas, and hubs of cultural and business centres have angered the common man who would like the elected representatives and the government servants to come out of the colonial mould of mai-baap and be the faithful servants of the taxpayers.

Ours is perhaps amongst a handful of countries where anybody even without any official sanction can walk into a neighbourhood automobile shop and buy a beacon of his choice at a price. No questions are asked. This unreasonable and unjustified extension of lal batti culture and inclusion of a vast number of non-emergency services has rightly led to this outcry and strong public opinion against such flagrant misuse of privileges and entitlements.

Beacons have been used traditionally by the emergency services like the police, fire services, ambulances, and allied enforcement services. A crane deployed to remove debris after a natural or human-made disaster employs a beacon to keep people away from harm's way and to warn them about the situation. A police car chasing criminals is well within its right to use the red/blue beacon. An ambulance carrying a critical patient must announce itself by using the beacon. But why does a bureaucrat or a police officer, a judicial magistrate, a politician or any other government functionary need a beacon to go to the workplace or to attend a social and private function? It will be good if the new set of rules on the subject limit the use of beacons only to emergency services. It is a bitter pill that India must swallow to grow as a mature society safeguarding principles of equality and fairness. The best would be to do away with sarkari cars by introducing handsome transportation allowance.

Claims and counter claims for initiating this positive move have already started flying thick and fast by political parties. The implementation may be easier in the Central establishments. But some states may take longer to fall in line. Closer watch will have to be maintained on all those who are going to be dispossessed of their prized beacons. Rules can be bent, broken and twisted to please those who matter. If not the beacon, better is to get a police escort car with beacons! Yes, that is a possibility in our free country.

(Somesh Goyal is an IPS officer of Himachal Pradesh cadre. The views expressed here are strictly personal.)
Somesh Goyal

Somesh Goyal

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