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City that flaunts red light

The mayor of Patna — the custodian of the city — doesn’t agree with what the Supreme Court has said on using red beacons on official vehicles.

“I was given the beacon by the office only and mayors before me had also been using it. I am the first citizen of the city and I should be given preference in using the beacon,” said mayor Afzal Imam.

The rules framed by the state transport department last year on who are entitled to the beacons has no provision for either the mayor or his deputy using them.

Even the country’s first citizen, the President, has no beacon fitted atop his Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guard unlike the Mahindra Scorpio of Patna’s “first citizen”. The pilot cars of the President are fitted with red beacons.

In its order on Tuesday, the Supreme Court has categorically said beacons should be used only by persons holding constitutional posts and high dignitaries to prevent misuse by local politicians who flaunt it as a status symbol. If the mayor, not a constitutional post, can use a beacon, what stops his deputy, Rup Narain Mehta, from using one? The deputy mayor’s Scorpio too has a red beacon fitted on top.

Transport department principal secretary and transport commissioner R.K. Mahajan was quite clear in the government’s approach towards the issue. “If the Patna Municipal Corporation mayor is using beacon, it is unauthorised. We will take action against offenders as per the law,” he said.

The rulebook doesn’t have anything to suggest that vehicles fitted with beacons should get special treatment. But lawkeepers are often seen helping a beacon-fitted vehicle break traffic rules by jumping signals or changing lanes.

Traffic superintendent of police Jayant Kant said: “We have nothing to do with the use of beacon. The transport department decides who are eligible to use it and who are not. We coordinate with them in taking action against offenders, when needed.” The necessity part hardly reflects in reality though.

The implementing agencies face stubborn attitude of the beacon users who range from the block development officers to vice-chancellors of universities. “Though the district transport office and the traffic policemen conduct joint drives against unauthorised use of beacons from time to time, but we face a whole lot of retaliation in that. Every second person caught in such drives claims that he has connection with some high-profile one. The detained person also threatens the enforcement officer that he would have to face severe consequences in case any action or penalty is imposed,” said an official at the district transport office.

The status symbol of using beacons has spread across all classes from members of the Legislative Assembly and Council, joint, special and additional secretaries of government departments, university registrars, district judges and even to the district board chairpersons. The symbol would soon vanish after what the Supreme Court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice C. Nagappan stated on Tuesday on a petition by Uttar Pradesh resident Abhay Singh.

In Bihar, the last time a list of people entitled to using the “preferential lights” came up, was in June last year.

As per the corresponding notification based on Clause III of Rule 108 of Central Motor Vehicle Rules 1989, people belonging to 20 categories, including chief minister, governor and cabinet ministers, among others are only authorised to use red beacon. Similarly, officials belonging to another 20 categories including chief secretary, inspector general, commissioner, and district magistrate and others can use yellow beacon (see chart).

However, as per the Supreme Court judgment on Tuesday, the state government would need to revise it and furnish a final list of those entitled to beacon in the next three months. But not much liberty has been given in finalising the list, as the apex court has put a stipulation that the state governments cannot enlarge the existing list of VIPs eligible for red beacons.

“Our list is limited and a very select group of people have been included in it. Moreover, though we have not received a copy of the Supreme Court judgment, we would take all requisite actions with utmost sincerity,” said transport commissioner Mahajan.

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