In April 2017, the Government of India decided to amend Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, that allowed State and Central Governments to decide who can use red beacons on their vehicles. Further, the use of beacons was banned for all VIPs, including vehicles of the Prime Minister and President of India. Over 70 years after independence, this was a significant step towards redressing the bane of VIP Culture that our colonial masters left behind. A tweet by our Prime Minister that said every Indian is a VIP was refreshing as well as reassuring.
A recent High Court directive asking for exclusive VVIP lanes at toll plazas across the country reminds us, however, that there is still a long way to go before ordinary Indians are first class citizens in their own country.
I don’t think persons who hold important public offices are themselves more important than the people they serve. If they are, that shouldn’t ideally be the case in a democracy. That is not to say that they cannot be accorded any privileges, but they should be to the extent that allows them to serve the people better. It is with this consideration that police and fire-force are allowed to use red beacons on their vehicles which will allow them to respond quickly in an emergency. However, what we see is that ministers and “people’s representatives” who cannot use red beacons themselves are escorted by police cars that can, thus reducing the exercise of denying red beacons to these VIPs to mere symbolism.
Instead of a VIP lane, what all toll plazas need is an emergency lane that can be used by services such as police and ambulance (that are authorized to use beacons signifying urgency). Government officials on emergency duties should use government vehicles that are authorized to use this privilege. When off-duty, even a high ranking official should follow the same lane as other citizens.
To say that VIPs should be provided with an exclusive lane to save their time and prevent “unnecessary harassment” smacks of deep-rooted elitism that has no place in a democracy. Why would their time be more important than that of others? Perhaps I should not be surprised since it cannot be worse than the government considering some people as more special and important than others (and hence the “VIP” tag). Why anyone should be subject to harassment at toll booths or when is harassment necessary are questions that are best not taken up!
Let’s hope the High Court order gets challenged in a higher court or is addressed through unambiguous legislation that covers wider aspects of this problem.