The red beacon light atop cars of politicians and bureaucrats has often come in for adverse mention by the judiciary. Now the Supreme Court has expressed its displeasure over the misuse of this symbol of priority and exclusivity.
There is anger that even a ‘village sarpanch' uses the red beacon on his car in Punjab. Red lights are owner's pride and neighbour's envy, to recall the advertisement campaign for a television brand. In Uttar Pradesh, it is estimated that there are more than 25,000 cars, jeeps and sports utility vehicles with red beacons. The propensity for the flashing light is no less in other states.
The Supreme Court is also inquiring that why legislators and even those “facing serious charges” should be provided with police security, which gives them priority everywhere, including on roads. Senior lawyer Harish Salve, who got stuck in a police barricade set up to allow VVIP movement to the funeral of former prime minister I.K. Gujral in Delhi, has taken up the case against this practice.
This is a different kind of road rage. Though there are strict rules on who is eligible to use what colour of light, and whether the light can be flashed or not, the red light is the symbol of having made it to the elite class, which even most billionaires cannot command.
But this is not the first time there is a demand to clean up the system, and ensure that the red light is restricted for emergency vehicles, like ambulances, fire engines and police jeeps. Ministers, MPs, MLAs, judges from Supreme Court to district courts, lawyers from the Attorney General to local prosecutors, election commissioners, chairmen of boards and corporations, IAS and IPS officers above a certain rank, mayors, councillors, district panchayat chairmen, those provided police security against threats to their life, those who are on escort duty—everyone loves the red light. The misuse is not recent.
In 1994, minister of state for internal security Rajesh Pilot ordered a special police drive to dismantle beacons from non-eligible cars. Soon Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was flooded with complaints against his harsh junior minister. Rao told Pilot to slow down. The Delhi High Court had also ordered a crackdown, but the police could not do much.
However, there was an instance of the possessors of beacons protesting against the motorcade of the man with the largest number of beacons in his cavalcade. MPs had once protested that closing of traffic for several minutes during the movement of the Prime Minister to and from Parliament affected their privilege of free movement into the Parliament complex. The Special Protection Group worked out a different iron gate for the Prime Minister to enter Parliament and reach the portico reserved for the head of government.