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Gujarat minister excusing road offences does more damage to India’s reputation as traffic hell

No one wants their festivities ruined by heavy traffic fines, but nobody wants their festivities ruined by a clown driving the wrong way either.

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As far as political sops go before election season, there are some that make sense — at least politically — like free electricity. Others are rather weird like a Telangana legislator distributing a live chicken and bottle of liquor. Then there was Gujarat Minister of State for Home Affairs Harsh Sanghavi saying that all traffic offences that occurred in the state during the Diwali week would be forgiven. I’m sorry, what?

I understand that during the week leading up to Diwali, traffic goes for an utter toss in many parts of India as many people are shopping for everything from lanterns to sweets. This year, the first Diwali without the shadow of the pandemic hovering over the country, was an opportunity for everyone to go out and indulge themselves. Fair enough, but a cursory look at Google Maps with the traffic layer on for most Indian cities during this week would show up roads marked in crimson, which, as any experienced user knows, is traffic hell.

And I have always felt that we, as Indians, make matters worse with our lack of traffic awareness. Wrong-side driving and illegal parking, the most common infringements at markets during the festive season, cause utter traffic chaos. And I find this puzzling. While it is true that better planning of parking facilities would make life easier for shoppers, the complete and utter disregard for civic rules makes matters worse. A friend once told me that this is because Indians have imbibed the Civil Disobedience Movement from our freedom struggle into our collective psyche.

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Behind India’s traffic

Our traffic is in this state because of our single-minded attitude of ‘I, me and myself’ even though sometimes reversing a foot might help untie a traffic knot. We end up feeling that ‘surrendering’ in traffic makes us smaller, even ‘feminine’. Yet, when Indians drive abroad, they all follow the rules to a fault.

And in my opinion, the only way to get traffic in order is through better enforcement. In Delhi-NCR and on many expressways, there is, for the large part, better adherence to speed limits. And while there are those who try and game the system still, you actually notice this. Of course, many people still don’t care as we saw on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link recently. This is a stretch of road with a large number of speed cameras and heavy fines. But a few years ago, before Covid, Mumbai had a draconian crackdown on drunk driving, which was a bit extreme, but it worked. Some of my friends, who earlier drove when they should have been nowhere near a steering wheel, were quite happy to take taxis after a couple of pints. Similar crackdowns in Delhi and Gurugram changed habits as well.

Yes, we would love to preserve a lot of India’s chaos but not on our roads, please, and this is what I want to say to Harsh Sanghavi. Following traffic rules is a good thing, it will improve civic sense and make citizens aware of their duties to each other. And the way about that is enforcement of traffic rules, even during Diwali. Yes, no one wants their festivities ruined by a heavy traffic fine, but nobody wants their festivities ruined by a clown driving the wrong way either. Sure, maybe excuse the fines post facto, but Sanghavi’s announcement before Diwali was a needless one and will do more damage to India’s reputation as being a traffic hellhole than anything else.

@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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