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Asking for trouble

There's a golden law about making rules: never create one that you cannot be confident of successfully enforcing. If you do, you could provoke the wrath of those on whom it is to be imposed and also humiliate your own authority. Karan Thapar writes.

columns Updated: Sep 11, 2010 22:17 IST
Karan Thapar

There's a golden law about making rules: never create one that you cannot be confident of successfully enforcing. If you do, you could provoke the wrath of those on whom it is to be imposed and also humiliate your own authority. I have a horrible feeling that rule setting aside, special lanes for the Commonwealth Games that ordinary people, that's you and me, cannot use fall into this category.

I know that the creation of such special lanes is a contractual commitment the government has made to the Commonwealth Games Federation. Very possibly, it was a condition for winning the Games. But that doesn't change a thing. It only means that commitments you are unlikely to be able to keep should not be made.

Let me explain my fear, but I suspect you've already guessed it. Delhi is a city which, at the best of times, is gridlocked in traffic jams. At peak time — and remember, that's twice a day — you can be stalled for hours. Now imagine what will happen when one lane is set aside for the Games. Newspapers claim this could happen on as much as 105 of the capital's 450 kilometres of roads. Worse, several are two-lane carriageways which will lose 50 per cent of their capacity.

To begin with, I'm sure most of us will grit our teeth and observe the ban on using the Games lanes. As a result, we'll not only be crushed into the ones that remain accessible but movement on them will be terribly slow if not totally stalled. Yet as we fret and fume the adjoining lane will remain free of traffic. This is because there aren't going to be that many athletes and officials using it and, once they do, no one else can.

So how long will it be before rising tempers and irresistible temptation combine to break the rule about not using the Games lane? It will take just one person to set an example. Once he or she, in a moment of fury or audacity, thinks they can get away with it everyone else will follow suit. Like a bursting dam, a flood of traffic could suddenly overwhelm the lanes.

How likely is this to happen? I'd say it can be pretty safely predicted as a certainty. Even in normal times the residents of Delhi lack the discipline to observe traffic regulations. Under extreme stress they are hardly likely to behave differently.

Now, when this happens what will the authorities do? They've already announced that the fine for breaking the ban is a steep Rs 2,000. But if that doesn't deter the defiant all that will be left to do will be to arrest them.

Yet how many can they detain and lock up? There are, after all, 6,500,000 cars in Delhi. Just 1 per cent comes to 65,000 drivers. If the number runs into thousands, possibly tens of thousands — and that too every day — will the police arrest so many? Second, will such sweeping arrests stem the defiance or spur it? Third, what will be the press response? And fourth, where will such vast numbers be kept?

I hate to think of it but we could end up with street protests, even violence. And all the while the images on television as well as the commentary in the papers will mock the government and its collapsing authority.

Ah well, the lanes start functioning on September 20. That's when the rest of Delhi could stop functioning. Good luck everyone!

The views expressed by the author are personal.