Traffic Cops – Mumbai

I always tended to pity the thankless job of a traffic cop – in Mumbai, one can’t miss these cops waiting almost at every traffic junction. A traffic cop in Mumbai has to face countless hazards in his life – the worst, of course, is being in the crosshairs of stupid drivers. Drivers, who really do not care for the life of anyone on the road. Drivers who do not respect the rule of the law. Drivers who barely tolerate the presence or admonitions of the traffic cops.

The cops are paid measly salaries and carry out a punishing job right through the day.

Ofcourse, people expect them to do more – Indians always expect a lot more from the government and the law enforcement agencies, although they do not respect authorities. I guess it is in our blood that we tend to rebel all the time. While that did not lead to any kind of violent revolution such as the French Revolution, it does exhibit in multifarious ways in life. Like not stopping at traffic signals. Like not stopping ahead of the white line at the traffic signal. Like keep on moving their vehicles so that enough obstruction is caused to the traffic which has the right of way. Like trying to bribe their way out when they are at fault.

My thought on this behaviour is just one – it is clear lack of discipline, which carries through when one is at the work environment as well. Or, when one is encountering a family situation which warrants a disciplined problem-solving approach. Adhocism and “chalta hai” attitude are destructive when discipline and constructive approach are what would be desired.

Yesterday (like almost all other days), I witnessed absolute anarchy at the traffic junction near Hotel Grand Sarovar Premier/Goregaon Telephone Exchange – since one stupid guy violated the traffic signal, all traffic came to a total halt, with a maze of criss-crossed vehicles on a total standstill. Nothing could move ! And, this happened at the crucial office-going time of 8:15 AM. Many people were stuck, till the time some enterprising common man started acting as the cop, directing the traffic. It was puzzling to see that the BEST buses are a big culprit, trying to push their way in at the junction, I thought they should carry a bigger responsibility of following traffic rules. They have been destroyer of lives in the past.

And, today, my driver made a nice sweeping left turn, when the signal was “left green”, and was pulled over by the traffic cop. I was wondering why, and refused to even look out of the car, because it was clear to me that the fault was not my driver’s. Time was wasted, but eventually we were let go without any obvious damage. I don’t understand why the cop was not clearing off the illegally parked vehicles just behind him, and trying to nab drivers. I always used to wonder why the traffic cops were always standing a bit out of sight at most junctions ! I guess it is to nab drivers who are unsuspecting and tend to violate the traffic rules. But, by that token, lots of violations do happen right in front of our eyes all the time, throughout the day, and apparently the cops watch all this, yet do not take decisive action.

What is required is that cops need to be taught how to take action on the roads against erring drivers without fear or favour. Cops should not be selective in taking disciplinary actions. Indians tend to drop names (big names that is) when stopped by police to scare the cop off. Again, that shows insincerity and callousness, a gross disrespect to the powers destined with the traffic cop to regulate traffic and road conditions. In fact, they should be empowered with blackberries or laptops to take “online” actions which would lead to effective law enforcement. Blackberry-enabled policemen do a much better job on Bangalore roads these days, and it is only a question of time till Mumbai policemen are similarly equipped. When I see the nice white bikes of policemen in English movies, I wonder why such bikes are not given to our policemen. It would be nice to see some police chases on our roads.

But the best thing that can happen is a total revamp of our RTOs which issue and regulate driving licenses. That’s a total mess (I guess all over the country). Recently we saw the case of a “past” terrorist in Mumbai who managed to get not only multiple driving licenses, but even a PAN card ! This is amazing in today’s networked world. All driving licenses need to be revalidated mandatorily every 5 years. Today, I saw a driver in South Mumbai, who looked like he was all of 70 years or more. He was almost on top of the steering wheel, peering closely through the windscreen to see what is ahead of him. Clearly calls for annual validation of all drivers above 60 years of age.

In conclusion, being a traffic cop is a heartless and thankless job. He needs to be vested with more authority after a tough bout of training, and given the right kind of status on our punishing roads for proper law enforcement. Hope the government and the police administration would do something seriously in this direction, and that too sooner than later. And, the fear of god has to be put inside the brains of rash drivers on the roads soon.

Have a great weekend,


Vijay Srinivasan
23rd August 2008