Friday, February 1, 2013

empowering the Aam Aadmi

Many years ago, when I first got posted to North Block, I'd stop at the traffic light just short of the gentle upward slope that connects Rajpath with Raisina Hill, and wonder: why can the whole of Delhi not have the same level of enforcement of traffic rules? The first few months, I was driven to work and the driver would take extra care once he entered the Rajpath stretch. This is known as the toughest traffic light to cross, he told me, since the size is smaller than most (it is!) and the penalty for violation immediate!! When I began driving myself, I'd frequently park the car to the side and ask the Traffic Constable at busy stretches like Pragati Maidan why more traffic violators were not being pulled out and challaned. The most common response was: I have but one pair of eyes, I get fatigued, standing hours on end in blistering heat, the traffic volume is far too heavy for the manpower deployed etc etc. 

That made sense ----somewhat. I wondered whether the government could use the services of citizens by empowering them to challan traffic offenders, and I discovered that such a legal provision does exist. Section 21 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides that the State Government may appoint Executive Magistrates ( known as Special Executive Magistrates) for particular areas or for the performance of particular functions and confer on them such powers as as it may deem fit. I discussed this with a couple of colleagues in the police set up and they laughed it down. That's understandable, of course ----- no person in a bureaucratic set up (which the police force is) who has been selected and trained to fill a position of authority is happy sharing his powers with "ordinary" citizens !

So it really gladdens my heart that the Justice Verma Committee has made this recommendation in its report. Here is what the Committee says:

" To augment the police force, there is need to develop community policing by involving the local population. Willing volunteers should be properly and intensively trained before being able to police the community. This would also motivate them to perform their duty as citizens. Respectable persons in each locality could also be appointed Special Executive Magistrates under Section 21, Cr.P.C. and invested power to deal with the traffic offences and other minor offences including eve-teasing. In addition, to assisting the maintenance of law and order in the locality, their presence would inspire greater confidence of safety in their locality."

We ought to be discussing/debating this recommendation and demanding its immediate implementation. "Immediate" will actually translate into several months, perhaps a year or so, as the government deliberates upon and decides the modalities of implementation, so the sooner we begin stridently demanding that the recommendation be implemented, the better.

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