Its traffic enforcement or harassment

Published : Times of India

Altercations between the public and traffic policemen are not unheard of.But to say that every traffic cop is standing at the junction just to abuse people is stretching it a bit too far.Without denying or justifying the existence of such malaise,it is worth examining the genesis of the problem as to what makes traffic policemen raise their decibel level leading to such conflicts.

There is a very thin line between enforcement and harassment.The difference lies as much in actions of policemen as in the actions and perceptions of citizens.A large chunk of citizens demand stricter enforcement and harsher penalties.There is an equal majority who consider any kind of enforcement to be mere harassment.
When a person is stopped for traffic violation,more than his pocket,its his ego that is hurt.No one wants to be told that he has done anything wrong,more so if the reprimand comes from a lowly perceived,less educated,Kannada-speaking constable.Many of us are either unaware of wrongdoings or quickly find justification for the same.Where does the helpless constable produce evidence of signal-jumping on the field It is ones word against the others.Yes,technology can play a role but the cost of collection may be many times the meagre amount of fine.Then there is the usual argument as to why me when so many others are also violating.Yes,there are many others but the police officer can handle one at a time which is supposed to be a deterrent for many others.
Even though there has been a fair amount of progress towards evidencebased enforcement through surveillance cameras,laser guns and alcometers,do we accept our fault gracefully No.We get into academic and philosophical discussion on the roadside.Why speed limit should be 80 kmph Yes,I consumed alcohol but I am in control.Is your equipment correct and so on and so forth.Arguments go on non-stop.
For every commuter who gets into an argument,it is a now-or-never issue.But for the policeman standing there,it is the case of five out of six persons caught day after day.How does a policeman keep his cool if each one of us wants to indulge in unending debate concerning propriety,correctness and rationale Many citizens connect their mobiles and expect policeman to talk to someone influential at the other end.Many complain that policeman speak only in Kannada.When one party does not understand Kannada and the other does not understand English,every spoken word appears like an abuse considering their belligerent postures.
Bad elements do exist and action is taken against them whenever reported and found justified.But is it too much to expect from people to be equally civilized when theyre caught for violations While condemning use of force by traffic cops,can we ignore the fact that in the past one year,one police officer was killed and 28 others sustained fractures because some driver tried to run away or run over them when flagged to stop Many of these are the result of signal jumping and drunken driving.Many feel that police should not stop but just note down the vehicle number.And do what Keep visiting their address to collect hundred rupees as fine Can cops be a silent spectator to such violations and do nothing If they dont intervene to stop an over-speeding vehicle,helmetless rider,drunk driver,signal jumper,then they are accused of being indifferent and lazy.
Besides the road rage that is seen during enforcement,many commuters feel that traffic cops are responsible for all their miseries on the road.He,in fact,has little role to play as far as poor infrastructure is concerned leaking pipes,overflowing drains,potholes,buses going off the road or if there are rallies,processions and other expressions of liberal democracy.Being the only visible face of the government standing at each junction,they suffer the anger and ire of commuters for no fault.
Bad behaviour should be condemned whether by police or public.People deserve respect from policemen and vice-versa.Disputes and academic debates need to be resolved under one roof rather than at traffic junctions.A major effort to equip policemen with soft skills is on.But without matching efforts from the public,the task will remain half accomplished.

(The writer is additional commissioner of traffic,police)  

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