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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Sep 2014
Why a safer Delhi need not be a stupid Delhi
Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 28, 2013
First Published: 01:00 IST(28/1/2013)
Last Updated: 01:01 IST(28/1/2013)

There is an old saying in some parts of India: When the king asks that so-and-so be brought to him, the king's men go out and tie up the person before hauling him to the royal court. Democracy has replaced monarchy but not much has changed in the mindset and functioning of our bureaucracy and enforcement.

The month following the brutal gang rape and death of the 23-year-old saw mounting public pressure force the government into announcing a slew of measures on women safety. Most of these steps were about ensuring that the breach of existing laws did not go unchecked anymore.

The traffic police and the transport department started cracking down on chartered buses because one such vehicle was involved in the brutal gang rape. It is no secret that chartered buses have been committing most of the safety and permit violations, including speeding, jumping red lights and plying without permissions.

We now know that the bus used by the alleged rapists was impounded as many as six times for permit violations and other offences in the past two years. On each occasion, it was released the next day after the owner paid a fine. There are many such recurrent offenders but none ever lost any permit.

Then it was suddenly time for action. Overnight, all 2,400 chartered buses were banished from the road pending scrutiny and verification. Given the limited infrastructure available with the transport authority and our cops, the process is crawling at a snail's pace and only 1,000 of the 2,400 buses are now plying on the road.

The result is a massive public inconvenience with more than one lakh daily commuters, who depended on this private fleet, stranded on the road. Since the Bluelines were phased out, the 5,500 buses run by the Delhi Transport Corporation are not enough and the privately owned government-sanctioned buses are too few.

Instead of trying to clean overnight the Augean mess of their own making, the authorities could have simply set a 30- or 60-day deadline for the chartered bus owners to get their papers and staff verified. This would have ensured that the bulk of the fleet did not suddenly disappear from the road and the operators became accountable without significantly inconveniencing the commuters.

This is not an isolated instance of knee-jerk and ad-hoc official reactions. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation that runs 190km of mass transit system in the city and the National Capital Region has barred its passengers from carrying sealed liquor bottles besides cutlery, cleavers and animals.

The baffling move sprang from the growing concern about potential terror attacks and authorities believed that liquor, an inflammable liquid, could be a security hazard even if carried in a sealed bottle.

Not every commuter carries liquor bottles every time he or she takes the Metro. But on any given day, a large number of its two million daily passengers do. Barring them is not the best way to encourage use of Delhi's most efficient public transport.

Besides, it is inexplicable how sealed bottles of liquor can pose security threats in our best guarded public facility.

Open bottles and cans of liquor are banned on most mass transits across the world. London banned it in the Underground in 2008 to stop people from drinking on board and cut down on violent behaviour.

Delhi did the same as soon as the Metro opened 10 years ago. But sealed bottles? Buses, trains and even aircraft permit it the world over. What does it say of Delhi's confidence level when it considers its underground more vulnerable than the skies?


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