Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Delhi roads are dangerous to human life

Or so says the Delhi High Court as it issues an ukase fine-tuning Delhi's traffic control laws.
The chaotic Delhi roads may at last get a semblance of discipline. The Delhi High Court on Monday stepped in to hike traffic fines across the board by Rs 500 and placed a ban on all tinted glasses and parking in the Lutyen's zone.

The slew of directions to revamp the traffic system came three months after a Times of India report had drawn the court's attention to the increasing road accidents in the city.,

In a comprehensive order, a bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and H R Malhotra also laid down strict guidelines for bus drivers and fixed the speed limit for vehicles — 45-50 kmph for light vehicles within the city and 35-40 kmph for heavy vehicles. All directions will come into effect from April 9 this year.

‘‘Immense influx of light and heavy vehicular traffic has made Delhi roads dangerous to human life. Therefore control of traffic in NCR and NCT is a matter of paramount public safety and has been a matter of judicial concern,'' the bench said in its 70-page verdict dealing with each aspect of the traffic system.
Now none of this is bad. Whether it will achieve the desire result is debatable, and I remain immensely skeptical of the breathless TV anchors who wondered out loud whether Delhi's traffic woes are in the past.

Excuse me? Increasing the fines is going to improve things in Delhi? Banning smoking while driving will reduce vehicular accidents? This assumes that there is such as thing as the rule of law in India, that the law will be enforced, and that people actually have some sense of traffic discipline, instead of the free-for-all-don't-give-a-quarter-if-I-stop-it's-as-good-as-being-castrated meleé on the roads. If those irritating talking heads on NDTV actually believe this then I have some neat beach-front property for them in Rajasthan.

There's probably no place which could serve as the text book case for the law of unintended consequences as India. In this case, I fully expect that the chai-pani rates (a term that literally means "tea-water" but is an oblique way of referring to a bribe) of the cops will increase; and now the eager hawaldars have a few dozen more things they can harrass the ordinary citizen with.

And tell me, why on earth does the friggin' High Court have to regulate such mundane matters of policy in the nation's capital? The courts decide the level of fines, and what constitutes road safety? And now that the Court has issued its judgment -- Delhi roads are hazardous -- ("M'lord, you must have finally emerged from your disinterested judicial ivory tower and tried to cross the road at CP") -- we can all breathe a sigh of relief that relief is around the corner, that the DTC buses will drive sanely, that private bus operators will not cram their vehicles to capacity, and, of course, the rickshawallah will actually charge by the meter.

While the executive busies itself with what it does best -- figuring out how to get re-elected, and plundering the coffers of the State (not to mention the aam aadmi) in the process -- the judiciary ("judicial overreach" is obviously not a concept taught in law school here) sets policy and tries to run the country, no matter that the backlogs on cases that require the judiciary to actually, you know, judge, are still decades long.

And of course, with no more black tint, we may even get to see the face of the VVIP whose convoy of white Ambassadors disrupts traffic yet again, and thank the stars that the netaji is out and about looking after the welfare of the people.

Wah! Mera Bharat Mahan!


Anonymous said...

When I visited my sister in New Delhi, she, sadly had become quite a good Delhi driver. This has persisted to her skills back in the States. After one close call, she said, "People in India drive like they believe in reincarnation."

Stop lights, stop signs, rearview mirrors and turning signals (not just the ones PAINTED on) would do a lot to making driving there safer.

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

I just read the Yahoo story, and wondered if you'd seen it.

Declaring "New Delhi roads dangerous to human life," the city's High Court on Monday imposed a slew of new measures aimed at deterring habitually bad drivers, including the smoking ban and a prohibition on using a mobile phone while at the wheel.

"Anything that distracts the attention of driver is dangerous.
The human mind cannot do two things simultaneously," said New Delhi's traffic commissioner Qamar Ahmed, welcoming the ruling, which goes into effect April 9 and only covers New Delhi, a city of 14 million people.

Those caught smoking at the wheel would pay 1,500 rupees (US$32; euro25), a hefty fine by local standards. Offenders caught more than five times would have their license revoked, the court said. The same fines apply to using a mobile phone and the less well-defined offense of "dangerous driving."

Many drivers in New Delhi welcomed the court ruling, saying that anything that would control the chaos on the city's roads — where many drivers regard red lights as suggestions and right of way is often determined by vehicle size — was a positive step.

Traffic commissioner Qamar Ahmed has obviously never been a parent if he actually believes "The human mind cannot do two things simultaneously."

Bad news, though: Things on the roads won't be much better when you get back here.