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Scent of an alcoholic

A night out with the police on the city?s roads for an anti-drunken driving campaign can be an adventure, reports Aasheesh Sharma.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2006 03:01 IST

A newspaper rolled like binoculars, constables who have a nose for tipplers and acrobatics that can put Sreesanth to shame. Braving the elements and VIPs who throw their weight around, the Delhi Police has devised some ingenious ways to check drunken driving in the city.

A night out with the police on an anti-drunken driving drive can be an adventure. The seven-degree cold may keep most indoors but those high on Bacchanalia have their own antidote to kill the chill. And with Christmas around the corner, what’s a peg or two before you hit the road?

Ask Shanker Market resident Mohanlal, a contractor by profession. When stopped by the police near Connaught Place’s Kake Da Dhaba, he insisted that he had just had a ‘mild’ drink. But his reluctance to blow into the alcometer and the stench of a liquor vend in close vicinity, gave him away.

For the record, Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act defines a drunken person as someone attempting to drive a vehicle with alcohol exceeding 30 mg per 100 ml of blood. Initially, Mohanlal blew gently into the meter. On prodding, when he blew harder into the nozzle, the needle went into a tailspin. 0-20-30-40……………..100….154. That was he conceded that the ‘mild’ drink was a bottle of an unpronounceable whisky he shared with his friend. “I borrowed my nephew’s scooter and thought we would get to our house within minutes. That’s why I don’t even have a licence or papers. Saheb, can’t we avoid going to the magistrate? Yahin kuch kar leejiye,” he urged. Sub Inspector Vijay Kumar simply smiled as he jotted down his particulars.

Mohanlal is not alone. Across the city, from all walks of life, the number of people driving “under the influence” is on the rise. For the record, the number of drivers prosecuted for drunken driving in the Capital rose from 2,664 in 2004 to 3,140 in 2005. By Delhi Police estimates, for the week ending November 11, 3,209 drunken drivers had already been prosecuted between January and November this year.

The scene verged on the comic at a crossing close to Gole Market’s famous meat shops. Pahar Ganj resident Chander Prakash, 33, was seen urging an avuncular Attar Singh, the 57-year-old sub inspector, to challan him quickly. “My children are waiting for the kebabs I had got packed after I had a beer.” Singh, remarkably fit for his age and seemingly uncaring about the kebabs going cold, proceeded to lecture Prakash on the evils of drinking instead; a lecture that ended with his vehicle being impounded.

It’s not easy to catch even one offender. Every third person out on the city’s roads reaches out for his phone, the moment he is stopped by the police. Threats of calling influential leaders (“Don’t you know who I am?”), professional credentials being banded about and pure indignation is commonplace. Architect Hanif Mohammed, 43, insisted that the mild beer he had wouldn’t make the alcometer budge. “I am a professional and know how to drink responsibly,” he said. His boast did not fall flat as the alcometer refused to move beyond 28.

The grandson of Delhi Assembly speaker Chaudhary Prem Singh sportingly stopped for the police, blew into the alcometer and had an encouraging word for the effort. “Only when you quiz the good guys will you be able to catch the bad ones,” he says.

The police certainly have their work cut out. Stopping speeding cars require the skills of an acrobat. In the absence of a metal barrier, police must park close to a huge speed-breaker to pounce upon drivers, arms flailing desperately. “Pull the car to the side,” says one of the constable as he simultaneously begins to roll a newspaper. “This is a desi alcometer,” he explains. “A non-drinking policeman will make the driver blow into the newspaper and smell it. Only when he finds something amiss will he employ the alcometer,” explains Singh.

And they used to say that the only use of an old newspaper was to wrap it around fish.

(Some names have been changed to protect confidentiality)

First Published: Dec 23, 2006 03:01 IST