Despite calls to limit the use of beacons atop vehicles — seen as shining examples of power and VIP status more than security aids — the government seems to be going slow on a road ministry proposal to allow the privilege to just five constitutional authorities.
A year and a half after the Supreme Court advised the Centre to drastically restrict the number of VIPs using red beacons, the government is yet to reach a consensus on those who would make the list.
Road transport minister Nitin Gadkari has in the past few months written twice to home minister Rajnath Singh, finance minister Arun Jaitley and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, seeking their views on limiting such vehicles, but is yet to hear from them.
The five authorities proposed by the road ministry to be entitled are the President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Lok Sabha Speaker.
Existing rules extend the privilege of red beacons to the 32 cabinet ministers and nearly a dozen others accorded cabinet rank. State governments have the power to extend the privilege to the lieutenant governor, chief minister and other dignitaries.
“Red beacons on vehicles, especially those belonging to the fire service, police, army and ambulances, ensure speedy passage through traffic. But, in India, these are seen more as a status symbol and are rampantly misused,” says a road ministry official.
Ministry officials say a consensus remains elusive as the issue is politically sensitive. Last July, Gadkari had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to take a call on who all should be entitled to use beacons on their cars.
The PM is said to have told Gadkari to get the law ministry’s opinion. When the matter was referred to the law ministry, it said the road ministry should first firm up its own view. After that, Gadkari wrote to his three senior colleagues.
The road ministry, which administers the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, will have to amend provisions related to the use of beacons once the list of those entitled is trimmed.
Senior lawyer Harish Salve, amicus curiae in the case, had demanded a ban on the use of red beacons except for security reasons. The Supreme Court in December 2013 advised the Centre to suitably amend laws in order to “drastically” restrict the list of people who could use beacons.