Supreme Court’s red card to ‘˜Laal Batti’

Supreme Court wants all the red flashes gone within three months.

In April this year, the Supreme Court had sounded a red alert on the widespread misuse of red beacons by the VIPs. The bench had also asked the central and state governments to drastically restrict the use of “laal batti” by VIPs and to provide it only to the heads of political executive, legislature, judiciary and persons holding constitutional posts.

But the government forgot to do the job as it was busy devising many policies to win votes as well as allies.

Today, the Supreme Court again directed that red beacon lights without flashers should be used on the vehicles of only high constitutional functionaries and blue beacon lights will be used only on emergency services and police.

The apex court bench headed by Justice G.S. Singhvi in its direction said that the sirens would only be used on the emergency and police vehicles but the sound should not be unduly harsh and shrill.

This time, the court has given a time frame for the job and has directed both the central and state governments to issue a pruned list of constitutional functionaries entitled for red beacon lights on official vehicles will within ‘three months’.

The court added that any violations of its direction would attract exemplary penalty.

The court ordered that the police will implement the provisions of Motor Vehicle Act without fear or favour.

Last time when the SC order had come, the very next day, a report in newspapers said deputy commissioners and sub-divisional magistrates in Delhi too were allowed to use beacons on their official cars.

Originally intended for security purposes, red beacons gradually became a symbol of political power. While 27 categories of public functionaries are officially permitted to use them (only when they on official duty), the prescribed norms are routinely flouted.

In UP and Bihar, a gram pradhan, head of a political party’s district unit, or even a smaller political functionary thinks that he/she cannot expect respect from others until he flashes one red beacon. 

Interestingly, the parliamentarians from across the political spectrum had made a strong demand for being given the right to sport red beacons atop their vehicles during a parliamentary debate in May last year.

“Even an additional district magistrate gets a red beacon while an MP representing lakhs of people is deprived of it,” Arjun Ram Meghwal of BJP had said while initiating a debate on the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill moved by transport minister CP Joshi in the Lok Sabha in May 2012.

He had added that a red beacon would help an MP reach parliament quickly as it would reduce time spent at toll booths on highways. Supporting him, Vijay Bahadur Singh of BSP said a red beacon would help MPs move quicker across their constituencies.

Since they are the ones who make laws, this one crossed the technical barriers pretty quickly. The road transport and highways ministry gave up its resistance to the MPs’ demand, the home ministry readied the proposal and prime minister Manmohan Singh too did not change his expression.

The deal was almost sealed when Congress president Sonia Gandhi chose to nix it.

“Laal Batti” is just a tool to the powerful to feel that kick of being powerful. Little do they know that they don’t need any. They sit in parliament and enjoy privileges in our name that are not available to any of us.

But, obviously, these aren’t enough.

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