The Law in a Loop: An Open Letter to the Traffic Commissioner
It’s a Saturday night and as partygoers tumble out of pubs and lounge bars the Bangalore Police gear up for a long night spent catching irresponsible, drunk drivers and many other unique species intent on breaking the law. However, the situation also creates an extremely fertile breeding ground for the apparently invincible corruption bug. On 5 March, 2011, a frustrated citizen logged onto IPAB to report the following Bribe story (edited):
“I was on a holiday from Australia in India last July. Me & my friends went out for a movie and on the way back we had 2 beers each. Once we reached Mehkhri Circle a cop stopped our car and asked for the driver to be checked for alcohol level. Our driver who knew this was going to happen had just 1 beer. The device used for the testing was put into his mouth and we noticed that it wasn’t even washed properly after usage by the previous vehicle guy. This was pathetic. And lo and behold the reading showed an extremely high level reading. I was alarmed. Suddenly the cop said to handover the vehicle and come to the court to collect it on Monday! WTF! We tried to explain him that we hadn’t had much alcohol for that kind of reading. After a few minutes one of my mates said if there could be any sort of adjustments that can be made. Instant reply - "5000 Rs". Of course we didn’t carry cash around like that. Finally we "settled" for 3000 Rs. It was a clear case of looting the public. …I am sure each of the cops that night made almost enough what we make in one month. This is the sad state of affairs in modern day India. Instead of fast-tracking progress we are forced to witness affairs like this. It left a bitter taste in my mouth before I left India, and I can clearly see the difference between western countries and our own.”
Under extreme circumstances such as the above, it’s easy to lose sight of what our rights really are. Very often, we don’t even know enough to take a firm stand, so, we give in. A look at the Bangalore City Police website gave us some information on exactly who can and cannot collect spot fines.
“Traffic officers of and above the rank of assistant sub-inspector are authorised to give away traffic violation challans or notices, which are for spot fines. Officers of the rank of ASI (one-star), sub-inspector (two-star), inspector (three-star) are authorised to collect spot fines. Any officer below the rank of ASI, which comprises constables and head constables, can only note down the nature of violation and vehicle number, and submit the information to the traffic enforcement automation centre. Notices will then be issued from the centre. The violator will have to pay the fine at the jurisdictional police station, the nearest Bangalore One centre or the Bangalore traffic police website. Traffic constables are not authorised to collect money as they do not carry receipt books. The motorist may lodge a complaint if any officer below the rank of ASI collects money from him."
However, when faced with the above situation, the first option often is to pay up and leave just to avoid further complications.
In 2010, a local newspaper reported that Bangalore tops all Indian cities for drunken driving violations. Needless to say, you can calculate the total amount of fish in the sea who managed to slip out of the net. Happy hunting grounds for the fishermen.
The BCP website goes on to say that even though “a motorist caught driving after consuming over 30 mg per 100 ml of alcohol (in the blood) is liable to be charged with drunk driving. This is checked with the help of an `Alcometer’. If the motorist is found to have consumed 30 mg of alcohol or less and is in a position to drive the vehicle, he is let off. There are no spot fines for drunk driving. No police officer is allowed to collect spot fines for this offence. The person will be given a notice along with a copy of the Alcometer readings. The other copy, along with a copy of the notice, will be sent to the court and the offender will have to pay a fine there.”
It sounds very well, but on 13 January 2011, a concerned citizen from Bangalore wrote in to ask us where he should send the following. “Can you put it up on your website”, he asked. We reproduce the letter, word for word.
Mr Sood, Your effort to put an end to the drinking and driving menace in Bangalore is laudable. The stringent checking has certainly reduced the incidence of this happening to a great extent. It is undoubtedly a good thing. However let me bring to light one fact that may have escaped your notice and which is defeating the purpose and bringing the entire exercise into disrepute. Since violators of the rule are not allowed to pay the fine on the spot (having instead to hand in their license and go to court the next day) your traffic constables are having a field day taking bribes. 8 out of 10 people who are caught are averse to the hassle of going to court and are unfortunately and shamelessly bribing your policemen so they do not have to face this. Even otherwise honest and upstanding citizens ready to pay the fine on the spot are caught in two minds given the misery of entering an Indian court. Your traffic constables are more than happy to accept these bribes, a sad but true fact. Since the official fine is high, the traffic constable’s bribe is equally high, often running into 4 figures. It’s no wonder then that the constables are out practically every night doing this job with much vigour and enthusiasm at every second corner. They are having a field day making money hand over fist. And habitual offenders now know they can get away with a lesser amount so the more blasé ones actually drink and drive with a bribe ready in their car glove compartments.
Mr Sood - The high fine is itself a strong deterrent. Repeat offenders should be fined even more. But to not take the fine legally on the spot with a challan is a big mistake and is fuelling an already corrupt system even further. Regards.
So does the law need to be looked into and examined for loopholes? Are the Traffic Constables collecting bribes not authorized to do so? If we find they are not authorized, should we point out that they are doing so in direct contradiction to their own mandates/policies?
What’s your take on it? Write in and let us know!