Around four years after the Supreme Court of India restricted the use of red beacons by VVIPs atop their vehicles, the Union Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday decided to completely end the practice from May 1. Several politicians in power, including Cabinet ministers, took the lead and removed red beacons from their vehicles as soon as the Cabinet decision was announced by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
At present, rule 108 of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989 allows the use of red beacons atop the vehicles of VVIPs, or dignitaries notified by the State or Centre.
Rule 108 (1) says "No motor vehicle shall show a red light to the front or light other than red to rear." However, there are several exceptions from this rule, including "a vehicle carrying high dignitaries as specified by the Central Government or the State Government, as the case may be, from time to time."
Rule 108 (2) says "use of blue light with flasher shall be determined and notified by the State Governments at their discretion."
Rule 108 (3) says "use of blue light with or without flasher shall be permitted as top light on vehicles escorting high dignitaries entitled to the use of red light."
The 108 (6) prevent the use of red beacons in case the dignitary is not present in the vehicle and prescribes to cover it with a black cover.
Politicians and civil servants are allowed to use red beacons so that they can complete their duties without any obstruction while traveling. However, over the years, India has witnessed the rampant misuse of red beacons by some officials as well as politicians, who tend to flaunt it as a status symbol and often put the rest of the public in trouble.
In its bid to prevent the misuse of red beacons, the government has introduced several provisions over the years to restrict the number of dignitaries who can use red beacons.
— Vijay Rupani (@vijayrupanibjp) April 20, 2017
The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways' notifications no. S.O.52 (E) published on January 11, 2002 and another notification [S.O. 1070 (E)] on July 28, 2005 clearly identified the number of dignitaries who can use red beacons:
1. Dignitaries who can use red light with flasher on the top front of vehicle while on duty anywhere in the country: President; Vice President; Prime Minister; Former President; Deputy Prime Minister; Chief Justice of India; speaker of the Lok Sabha; Cabinet Ministers of the Union; Deputy Chairman Planning Commission; Former Prime Ministers; Leaders of Oppositions in the Rajya Sabha & Lok Sabha; Judges of the Supreme Court.
2. Red light without flasher on the top front of the vehicle, while on duty anywhere in the country: Chief Election Commissioner; Comptroller & Auditor General of India; Deputy Chairman Rajya Sabha; Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha; Ministers of State of the Union; Members of the Planning Commission; Attorney Journal of India; Cabinet Secretary; Chiefs of Staff of the three Services holding the Rank of full general or equivalent rank; Deputy Ministers of the Union; Officiating Chiefs of Staff of the three services holding the rank of Lt. General of equivalent rank. Chairman Central Administrative Tribunal; Chairman Minorities Commission; Chairman, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission; Chairman, Union Public Service Commission; Solicitor General of India.
— Doordarshan News (@DDNewsLive) April 20, 2017
In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the state governments to amend the Motor Vehicle Rules in order to increase the amount of fine as a punishment for use of red beacon against its order. It also stated that vehicles carrying high dignitaries specified by Central government and States were allowed to be fitted with red lights but it could only be used when the dignitary was using the vehicle while on duty.
While restricting the number of dignitaries who can use red beacons, the Supreme Court had observed: "A large number of persons are using red lights on their vehicles for committing crimes in different parts of the country and they do so with impunity because the police officials are mostly scared of checking vehicles with red lights, what to say of imposing fine or penalty...The contemptuous disregard to the prohibition by people in power, holders of public offices, civil servants and even ordinary citizens is again reflective of Raj mentality and is the antithesis of the concept of a Republic."
Even as the red beacons are restricted to be used only by a few notified dignitaries, using the 'lal battis' had become a fashion even among some self-styled politicians and district and block level officials like MLAs, chairmen of Zila Parishads, BDOs, and their relatives etc. In states like Punjab, members of religious institutions were also found to be using red beacons on their vehicles.
Consider these examples:
Last month, a senior Punjab official was reportedly found using the red beacon on his vehicle even two days after the state government led by Captain Amarinder Singh had decided to do away with the red beacons. Punjab power minister Rana Gurjit Singh had even said he would not stop using red beacon despite the ban. “We worked very hard for it for many years, and now you say remove it,” HT reported him as saying on April 19.
A report by ToI in August 2013 had highlighted how the unauthorized use of red beacons was rampant, not just by government officials but also private individuals. In 2014, red and blue beacons were found being sold in an open market in Ludhiana for Rs 500 each.
Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP. https://t.co/epXuRdaSmY
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 19, 2017
Last year, The Tribue reported that the misuse of red beacons in Amritsar by politicians, bureaucrats, and private individuals.
In an exclusive report, HT reported in July 2016 the violation of red beacon rules by ministers in Maharashtra. Around half a dozen ministers were found to have fixed red beacons even on their private vehicles.
With a complete ban on the use of red beacons, ministers, self-styled politicians, and power-showy officials would not be able to flaunt their power and lose the special privileges that have been enjoying on the roads until now.
(With inputs from agencies)