Saturday , 7 December 2019

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

The traffic cop is accused of either being corrupt or inefficient – he often looks the other way.

We have to compare the number of traffic cops manning the streets with the number of vehicles that are plying and the latter is disproportionately high. So it is not possible for one person on the chowkey or the square to catch all violators because there are any number of violators at any point of time at all squares everywhere in the city. But we are doing a large number of cases – about 4000 to 5000 each day – against people who jump signals, cut lanes, cross lines of zebra crossing and drive in a drunken state. Now that is a large number but it still does not deter defaulters.

So what is the next step?

One way is taking stringent action selectively and intensively which we always do. The second way is to reach out to people through various agencies on various fora and interact with them. Recently our Additional Commissioner started a Mumbai Traffic Police Page on Facebook with the intention of listening to people’s woes and taking corrective action as well as reaching out to them and appealing to them as to what they should also be doing. We always point fingers at the traffic cop but we need to also understand that almost all people who drive vehicles are licence holders. When you hold a licence, you are holding a responsibility and it is expected of you to follow the rules and regulations on the street and not to violate them. All these responsibilities come to you with the licence. So mere penalising does not help. Recently we had this problem of meter jam and a lot of uproar against auto rickshaw and taxi drivers for refusing to take passengers. So we had a selective and intensive campaign against those who refuse to ply. We began a novel way to make errant drivers aware of their responsibilities. Whoever was being penalised was put through a small audio visual training capsule when he came to collect his licence at our traffic headquarters. After he went through that 15-20 minute capsule only, his licence was handed over.

We have also had programmes with NCC cadets where we ask the errant drivers to take an oath that they will not drink and drive when they come to take their licence after a six month suspension. These are efforts which go beyond the law to awaken their soul and spirit – whatever you can call it.

In the last one year, has the number of drunken driving cases declined? Have the traffic department’s initiatives been effective?

The initiatives have definitely been effective because though we are able to catch a large number of people who are drinking and driving, the number of accidents because of drunkenness seems to have gone down a little bit. Now we are thinking that we will send notices to bar owners or hotels that serve liquor. When they find a client who is drunk and is about to drive, they should not allow him to drive but make arrangements to have him dropped. We will have to go beyond the normal working ways to handle the situation.

But what if the defaulter comes from an influential background?

First of all, the traffic police does not register the case. It is done by the police station. We do cases only under the Motor Vehicle Act u/s 184 and 185 for rash driving and drunken driving. And that is a compoundable offence but if it is repeated, then of course we refer them to the police station. That is how offenders are sent to police station and from there, to the prisons as well. But an accident case is dealt with at the police station and I am sure they handle them strictly as per law because this is one area where there is no question of anyone being high or low – the law has to be applied very strictly and uniformly. That alone is going to deter others from doing such a thing.

You had started a campaign about fining people with a smile.

The aim and objective of traffic police is not to fine. We will be very happy if nobody violates the law and we are not required to fine anyone. That is an ideal situation. But the problem is that whenever a person is fined, he is never ready to accept he is in the wrong and often, the process of issuing a fine is a very acrimonious one. It leads to a lot of ill feeling towards the person who is fining and towards the department also. So I had an interaction with my people saying that whenever you fine, you please explain it to him nicely that this is not to penalise him but to ensure that he is not caught again.

It is for the first time in Mumbai that women too have begun manning the signals.

Maharashtra Police follows the rule of 30% reservation for women in the police force since a long time now. Earlier as women were few in numbers, they were restricted to office or standby duties. But with 30% reservation and so much emphasis on gender equality the world over, I think it is only appropriate that the women join the men in every walk and realm of policing which includes manning the traffic signals on the streets.

What are your focus areas for the future?

We have begun useful and focused drives against drunken driving, signal jumping and refusal to ply by drivers of taxis and auto rickshaws. We are also trying to introduce dedicated lanes for the buses (they form a large volume of traffic) and MMRDA has been appointed as a nodal agency for the same. Dedicated lanes will be a precursor to the BRTS and the agency will see if BRTS can come into play in Mumbai because our effort is to have a little extra space. The government is looking at BRTS of which I am a part. Initially there will be a few problems. Enforcement is going to be a major issue but we will try it on a pilot basis very soon.

Mostly we will choose the Thane-Chembur sector because Eastern Expressway is fairly wide. And we are also thinking if a dedicated bus service is to work then the dispersal at its end has to be addressed. There has to be a connected shuttle service or transport service to the last mile – what they call the last mile connectivity – because if that is not there, the whole exercise gets adversely affected.

Our ultimate objective is that a large number of people should move from cars to the bus. So strengthening of public transport is the key. The government is already working on smaller rail, mono rail and Metro. The BEST is trying to upgrade and improve its services with few air conditioned buses. So the government is encouraging betterment of public transport system so that more and more people switch over to public transport.

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