SC restricts red beacons

The Supreme Court on Tuesday showed ‘Red Light’ to misuse of red beacons by politicians and bureaucrats and held that red beacon can only be used by high dignitaries holding constitutional posts while on duty.

It also banned private individuals from using siren in their vehicles and asked authorities to take punitive action against violators. The court asked for amendment in Motor Vehicles Act for imposition of adequate penalty on misuse of red beacon.

A bench comprising of Justice G S Singhvi and C Nagappan said that men in uniform; operational agencies which require unhindered access to roads for performance of their duty; those engaged in emergency duties such as ambulance services, fire services, emergency maintenance, and police vehicles used as escorts or pilots or for law and order duties shall not be entitled to red lights but lights of other colours like blue, white or multi-coloured.

The court restrained the central and state governments from enlarging the scope of the term ‘high dignitaries’ beyond what is prescribed in notifications issued by the central government in 2002 and 2005 which includes president, prime minister, Chief Justice of India, cabinet ministers, governors, chief ministers besides chiefs of three defence services.

Observing that there has been abysmal failure of the authorities to check misuse of red beacons, it said that ‘so much so that a large number of persons are using red lights on their vehicles for committing crimes in different parts of the country and they do so with impunity because the police officials are mostly scared of checking vehicles with red lights, what to say of imposing fine or penalty’.

The court said that the failure of authorities to do so for almost 24 years is inexplicable and the contemptuous disregard to the prohibition by people in power, holders of public offices, civil servants and even ordinary citizens is reflective of ‘Raj Mentality’ and is antithesis of the concept of a Republic.

The court said that the best political and executive practices have been distorted to such an extent that they do not even look like distant cousins of their original forms and the best example of this is the use of symbols of authority including the red lights on the vehicles of public representatives from the lowest to the highest and civil servants of various cadres.

‘The red lights symbolise power and a stark differentiation between those who are allowed to use it and the ones who are not. A large number of those using vehicles with red lights have no respect for the laws of the country and they treat the ordinary citizens with contempt. The use of red lights on the vehicles of public representatives and civil servants has perhaps no parallel in the world democracies,’ the court said.

The ruling from the court came on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) highlighting the indiscriminate use of red beacons and sirens and flaunting by VIPs as a symbol of power leading to inconvenience for the common man. It was argued in the court that this is contrary to constitutional ethos and the basic feature of republicanism enshrined in the Constitution.
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