Despite the rapid rise in the number of people the Mumbai traffic police have caught for drink driving, the number of offenders getting convicted has seen a dramatic decline in the past two years. A worrying trend, as it suggests that people can get away with driving after consuming alcohol.
Statistics with the traffic police show that in 2010, while 16,290 persons were caught for drink driving, only 10,262 of them were sentenced to imprisonment and only around 50% of the offenders - 8,354 people - had their licences suspended.
The conviction rate dropped even further in 2011: of the 16,324 persons caught, only 6,094 people were sentenced to imprisonment and 6,037 had their licences suspended.
MN Singh, former police commissioner of Mumbai, said the numbers indicate that the police are not taking prompt action, as required.
The routine is that the offender gets a ticket, his or her licence is taken away and a fine is collected. The next day, they appear in the court and face trial. “If the number of sentences has declined in the light of an increasing number of offenders caught for drink driving, it shows that the police are not doing proper follow-ups on the offenders. The police have to conduct more systematic follow-ups so that the culprits are punished,” Singh said.
The problem, said traffic police officials, is that the department is severely short-staffed.
“The traffic police face a major manpower crunch. For any given shift, there are only 400 to 500 traffic policemen to manage the entire city. The city is supposed to have 2,500 traffic cops, but the department is short of 750 personnel. In such circumstances, it is difficult to follow up each case that we deal with, especially considering the large number of people caught every day for drinking and driving,” said a traffic police official, requesting anonymity. Mote Patil, senior traffic police inspector from the prosecution branch, said the conviction rate is low because offenders don’t turn up for trials. “If an offender in a drink-driving case does not turn up, his fine of Rs 2,000 is forfeited. Most offenders don’t care about the fine. As for the licences, the court usually retains the licence for six months and then hands it over to the concerned Regional Transport Office,” said Patil.