Milind Bharambe, Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) tells Rouhan Sharma a stronger legislation to ensure road safety is the need of the hour.
Like Navi Mumbai, are there plans to launch e-challan in Mumbai as well?
It is likely to start from April and it will start with a big bang. There will be at least a thousand instruments in all and all the accompanying equipment at all traffic signals and with traffic constables.
What are the plans to adopt more technology to ease traffic, ensure safety?
Have you seen the digital boards we already have? They are a little archaic but are being modernised to give all traffic advisories and route advisories in real time. 55 of those traffic variable messaging systems (VMS) should be in place in the next two-three months. Thereafter, it will be expanded to 200 in the coming year. By the year-end, we hope to see all 200 VMS´ all across the city. Mumbai will the first city in the country to have 200 such VMS´ which will give not only traffic advisories but also route advisories. Whether it is a function, procession, accident, oil spill, breakdown or ambulance movement for green corridor, everything will be displayed. Another technology initiative already taken is the launch of the new info helpline.
There was no info helpline for Mumbai traffic police. We have created one that is completely database rich. The number is 8454 999999. If you call and ask for any route or traffic advisory, they will give you the information. This is a citizen-friendly initiative. That is being coupled with our own app called Mumbai Traffic Police (MTP) app which will also carry all this information. We are planning to have it location-based so that a resident of Bandra, for instance, or someone passing through Bandra will be given information about Bandra or nearby areas. If there is any function, procession or any digging that has taken place and which are causing bottlenecks, there will be a notification on the app.
The third thing is the re-launch of our website. The website will also get all of these things. The info helpline, app and website will connect to the same database. Those who can surf the net can see it on our website. Those who want to see on mobile can check the app and those who don´t have time or do not understand technology can just call the helpline. We are also launching a multimedia centre which will interface with all kinds of media, be it the conventional media like the press, electronic or radio FMs, or the VMS´, hoardings and social media as well. All this will immensely help the interface of commuters with the traffic police.
One of the crucial things for road safety is enforcement. According to WHO report on enforcement, India ranks a lowly three-four on a scale of 10.
With the enforcement of law as it exists, we make more than 20 lakh cases and collect a fine of more than Rs.20 crore every year. However, the fine is so meagre. Rs.100 has hardly any value in today´s world, especially in a city like Mumbai. We are actually waiting for a stronger legislation where the offender is given a fine of `3,000 or Rs.5,000 fine and you really have a deterrence of law. Today, if a man has money in his pocket, he can pay at ten places all the way from the suburbs in Borivali all the way to Colaba in south Mumbai and it would hardly matter to him. Unfortunately, this is the case today which we hope will at least be minimised once we launch the e-chalan because for subsequent offenses, the offender can be prosecuted with higher fines. However, we are really looking forward to a stronger legislation for better enforcement of law.
What is the situation in the city with drinking and driving?
Legislation is good in terms of drink and drive. We have a very good campaign ongoing. People actually fear drinking and then driving. It has the best impact in the city of Mumbai and is probably the best in the country. The law provides for up to six months in jail currently. However, offenders are jailed for a couple of days but at least, jailing is possible. It is basically the interpretation of law. If offenders start getting a month or two months´ jail sentences, you will see better results.
A government resolution was issued on December 31st last year saying licenses could be suspended for three months in case of rash driving, speeding and similar violations. Offenders can be made to sit for two hours of counseling if they are not wearing a helmet. Suddenly, you see the impact with people starting to wear helmets and securing seat belts because we have started enforcing that. Therefore, if we get hold of a stronger law, enforcement and deterrence become easier. Enforcement in Mumbai is still better than in other cities.
We still have more than 500 deaths every year, which is very unfortunate. There are many engineering issues in this because people are living by the roadside and are crossing the roads repeatedly. Slums have mushroomed everywhere and vehicles are passing by. This is an unfortunate aspect that has developed. However, if we get a stronger law, we have better control on enforcement and on violations.
Nonetheless, aren´t you are under pressure due to increasing vehicles?
Certainly. In the last 10 years, vehicles have increased by more than double in the city of Mumbai. Roads haven´t increased much so where are the vehicles going to go? Moreover, our manpower has hardly increased. For vehicles, there is always a tipping point and the tipping point has almost been crossed. There is heavy bottleneck on Western Express highway. The roads are clean and the vehicles are free to move. There is no obstruction of any sort but just the volume of vehicles clog the roads. There is no other reason. For instance, also consider the clogging at Pedder Road. It is just the volume of traffic. This is an engineering issue. The town planners didn´t or couldn´t plan for an alternative route. This is a major arterial route to go to the city and for whatever reasons, the alternative too, hasn´t come up. We hope to see it in the coastal road. There is a tunnel planned underneath and we hope to see the coastal road taking most of the load off the roads.
Do you have adequate CCTVs?
We have 229 cameras at present but the state government has already launched a flagship project of 6,000 CCTV cameras that is already under commission. These should all be installed by the year end. We hope to benefit immensely from this.
Finally, in a country like India, the common citizen doesn´t seem to have any civic sense at all. How does one tackle this situation?
You have to follow a carrot and stick policy. You cannot always give carrots to people and keep educating them. You need a stick with you as well. That is what I am talking of, a harsher law that will pinch the violator. If there is a person jumping the queue and if I catch him and he is fined Rs.5,000, it will definitely pinch him. The next time, he will not dare to jump the queue. In the current scenario, if at all a traffic constable catches a violator, he pays Rs.100 and has no fear of doing it again. Moreover, at that time, when the constable is engaged in imposing the fine, meanwhile, 10 more people jump the queue and commit an offense. Basically, the law should be harsher for the city of Mumbai at least. Today, everyone wants a harsher law.
The Road Safety Bill seems to have got stuck in Parliament.
There are some public representations against the Bill because charging Rs.5,000 in Mumbai may have an impact. However, charging Rs.5,000 in Jharsuguda is obnoxious. It may be half a year´s salary for people there and from poor people, you cannot be charging that. This will be a Central Act applicable all across the country. What applies in Mumbai also applies to rural areas and that is one of the challenges the Bill is probably facing.