15 May

Beacon of hope, repression, efficiency….

Red beacons
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  1. Beacon of hope, repression, efficiency....
  2. Beacon of hope, repression, efficiency….

The reason for the recent notoriety of the beacons is the decision of the Union Cabinet on 19 April 2017 to remove all beacons. Working fast, the draft Rules were issued the very next day. It was another measure to remove symbols of the so-called VIP culture in India. In the recent past certain State Governments have also issued similar notifications. Most notably Punjab, which is infamous for the overuse and misuse of the beacon policy. It can be argued that this decision of uprooting the whole beacon policy was taken as the earlier steps to rein in the misuse saw only mixed success.

One would recall that in December 2013, the Supreme Court in SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION NO.(C) No.25237/2010 delivered a judgment that was also much discussed in the media and public. The beacons were restricted to

The men in uniform; operational agencies which require un-hindered access to the roads for performance of their duty; those engaged in emergency duties such as ambulance services, fire services, emergency maintenance etc, and police vehicles used as escorts or pilots or for law and order duties shall not be entitled to have red lights but lights of other colours, e.g., blue, white, multicoloured etc.

and a few other specified dignitaries. The sudden removal of beacons from a large section of public servants caused large heartburn – both among elected as well as appointed public servants. Various kinds of subterfuges were devised – new kinds of colours were imagined, as only red and blue beacons were regulated by the SC. Various kinds were parities were pleaded to include one category of persons after another. Although the 2013 judgment severely restricted the beacons, the numbers were still much higher than was warranted in the aftermath of the SC judgment.

The removal of symbols of power is a democratic urge. This urge has been witnessed all throughout history, but especially so in the new democratic world where anyone can question the powerful and the mighty. To segregate people on the basis of public utility is decidedly suspect in the eyes of many. It is not just the beacon and siren that are suspect symbols of power, but every appendage and privilege that comes with public office. Where policy is forged on the pulpit, limits of logic are reached fast, and every norm and standard is questioned anew. Frequently, such symbols vanish upon such close questioning. It is facile to say that in a republic, every person is a sovereign. Even our Prime Minister says that all Indians are VIPs:

The real charm is when, however, the recently de-privileged express anguish at a policy that has benefited them all their lives. Mark the words of Vinod Rai, Ex-IAS and Ex-CAG, in his article titled “Beacon of Repression“:

The sight of a red beacon vehicle created a feeling of revulsion among the public. The vehicle speeding down congested roads in metropolitan cities with blue beacon police vehicles has become such a common sight. They specialise in jumping red lights much to the chagrin of fellow motorists. If you do not give them a pass, you run the risk of facing the ire of the khaki clad in their cavalcade, who excel in unbecoming gestures, and may even land a danda on your bonnet. After all, is it more important for these VIPs than what you and I would have set out to do? Even if it was, they could have stepped out a few minutes earlier.

Curious how wisdom arrives after superannuation.