Saturday , 21 September 2019

Interview with: Vivek Phansalkar, ‘Strengthening of Public transport is the key’

Ganapati Visarjan this year went without a traffic hiccup in Mumbai under his supervision. And now with emphasis on new technology, stationing women cops at traffic signals, organising driving lessons and workshops for errant drivers, and kickstarting an initative of levying fine with a smile, Mumbai’s new Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Vivek Phansalkar seems to be a man in hurry to change the traffic situation in the city. Dedicating lanes for buses is next on his agenda.

You have expressed your desire to bring in good technology for traffic management. What is on your agenda for the next six months?

Our agenda is defined on a day-to-day basis because keeping Mumbai moving as easily as possible is our job. We have it on our minds every day as the day breaks. We are looking at certain short term and certain long term measures which will help our own people to regulate and monitor traffic better. The surveillance system (CCTV) was already in place before I took over. Now we are looking towards a little enhancement in that area. Some projects are already under way and along with the government’s sincere efforts in traffic management, we get a lot of help from agencies like the MMRDA, Municipal Corporation and even the World Bank.

In what way?

Traffic or transport infrastructure is one of the main ingredients of our ongoing projects like the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) and Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project (MUIP). They have already granted us Area Traffic Controlled Project under which we have initially installed sensors on some major junctions which are always heavily loaded with traffic. These sensors are supposed to pick up the vehicle count and send the data to our control room. Depending upon the dynamic position or situation of the vehicle count, the control room will define the duration for which the lights will be on in a particular direction in the morning and evening hours. This is done to bring a certain proportion between the time allowed for a particular direction traffic and the load in that direction. Presently we are doing it manually. Most of this depends on the man at the junction – his judgment is based on the extent to which he can see. So technology of this kind is certainly going to help our people on the junctions and ease their delivery mechanism. All the agencies I have mentioned are stakeholders in some way or the other in these projects.

What is it that ails us when it comes to traffic? Is it just the population or is it also the mindset of people?

The problem is that everyone is in a hurry and wants to be right at the front at the signal to reach their destination early. It is an irony that the traffic signal system is basically supposed to be a replacement for human beings (traffic cops) who manage the chowkeys or the squares. At the traffic signal, you are supposed to follow the basic principle of green, red and yellow/orange lights. There are traffic signals and there are lights installed. But unless we have traffic policemen at those junctions it results in chaos. For example, I have around 800 to 850 people working in one shift and they include my driver, office staff – everyone. So we are left with about 550 junctions that can be manned actually by the traffic policemen. Hence, replacement of human beings is needed because we have a large number of traffic junctions but not as many people to man them. Now whether you call it a mindset of not obeying in the absence of a traffic man, or hurry or tendency to let go of law or not abiding by the law or whatever – the truth is that we need enforcement and we need it everywhere and we need it all the time.

Initially the law was not very helpful to the traffic police in managing the chaos on the roads as people paid the penalty, got the licence after some time and went on to repeat the offence. Is the law a little more sensitive now?

The law basically is an instrument in the hands of the state to control deviant behaviour. About five percent deviance is normally expected in a society and the rest of the society is expected to run on norms which are unenforced laws. Likewise, there are normative structures and variable models on the street too to abide by when you are walking or driving or crossing. So it is expected that the normative standards of behaviour shall prevail and the law is supposed to take control of the deviance. But at times, the law keeps getting violated and a need arises to enforce it in a bigger way. For example, two-three years back the Mumbai Traffic Police launched a campaign to check drunken driving and it worked. A campaign is nothing but enforcing an already existing law with a single minded focus so that it has a demonstrative effect to the extent that it becomes a deterrent to others so as not to disobey, violate or flout it. So, the law is certainly effective.

There is a general perception that most of the technology that enters the country does not enter the government departments…

It will not be correct to say that government departments are not very abreast of latest technology. It does reach us because people who come with new technology keep meeting us. They make presentations and demonstrations. We do make an effort to bring in technology wherever possible. Over the last few years you may find that a lot of technological inputs have come in various departments including the police department and things are improving. Recently a lot of funding has come into police modernisation. And we have been upgrading the police equipment in all departments – security, police stations, wireless equipment, traffic and many other areas. For a big country like ours it will take a little time for the visible effects to be seen everywhere. Recently, the Pune Traffic Police have begun a wonderful experiment by giving Blackberry phones to traffic cops who can now record traffic violations, fine on-the-spot and suspend the licence of the person who violates the law thrice. We are also trying to see if something similar can be done in Mumbai.

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