“We have a target of collecting zero rupees as traffic fines”

He has been in the hot seat of the Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic and Security) for nearly two-and-half years. IPS officer Praveen Sood has much to say about the city’s motorists.

Focusing primarily on maintaining discipline on the road, the traffic police department under his leadership has gone all out on nabbing offenders. With the help of technology and a non-compromising stand in enforcing the law, the department attempts to compensate for its severe staff shortage.

Praveen Sood in conversation with Citizen Matters about the technology used to monitor traffic, while demonstrating traffic flow in a major intersection in the city. Pic: Navya P K.

Sood is known to be a straight talker with a keen analytical mind. In this exclusive interview with Citizen Matters on 23 July, he weighs in as only he can about traffic management in the ever-chaotic roads of Bangalore, the linkage to the city’s infrastructure problems, and new initiatives by his department and citizens’ role in improving traffic conditions. (Sood’s previous interview with Citizen Matters was two years ago, in August 2008.)

In intersections, especially in places where construction work is going on, there are not enough traffic policemen at times. Is there a shortage of personnel?

There is huge shortage of personnel considering that every road is dug up. Today there are 43 major works going on – flyovers, underpasses, road widenings and metro work. Roads have been dug up along 60 km, which has affected 20 junctions. There are 70-80 junctions where there are traffic diversions. There are many traffic problems because of construction. When we have traffic police, they cannot cater to these things. So that creates lot of gap, which we try to fulfill through homeguards because we can’t put policemen in places where construction is going on. Then the entire traffic police will be looking at this only. So we supplement that work using homeguards.

How many homeguards are there now?

We have roughly 300 people. But don’t forget, homeguards are volunteers, they come sometimes, they don’t come sometimes; they are not paid employees. They might come 15 days a month, sometimes 30 days a month. We can’t force them. Many of them work for a week and find that this is too much. It’s not easy, it only looks easy and they never come back. At present we have about 300, but actual figure varies between 200 and 300.

So do traffic police also manage such intersections?

That depends on the intensity. If there’s diversion or serious management needed, then traffic police will be there. If it can be managed by homeguards, then they will do it.

And in regular intersections is there a shortage of traffic police?

There’s nothing like shortage. We cover only 1,000 out of 40,000 junctions. We don’t even touch 39,000 junctions. Of the 1000 also, only 200-300 are manned round the clock. Other junctions work on lights. If you get 1000 more people, you will be able to take care of 1000 more junctions. If you don’t have manpower, it will be manned by the people themselves, in the sense god almighty will look after.

Are you taking any action to take care of this situation?

It’s not our wish list that we ask for 1000 people and government gives 1000 people. It’s very difficult to add even a single constable. There are constraints.

Are you planning to use automated signals in these areas?

Of the 40,000 junctions in the city, 4,000 are major junctions. No city has 4,000 major junctions. There is no point in putting a signal in every junction.

But given the accident rates for the city, aren’t signals necessary?

Signals don’t reduce accidents. Accidents are related to people’s behaviour. If we put signals unnecessarily, accidents will only increase, not decrease.

Are there any upcoming projects by the traffic department? Are you planning anything new in traffic management?

We will continue to manage traffic as we have been doing with technology in a big way. We had put four variable message sign boards some months back. Today it is 10. In the next three months, we will have 10 more variable message sign boards making the total to 20.  Already 185 cameras are working in the city. In such junctions, the chances of gridlock occurring is very remote. People know they are being watched, everything is recorded. If a gridlock occurs, we analyze it right after. So the technology is there with us.

It’s impossible to tow lakhs of vehicles a day, so parking enforcement is done in main roads only, says Sood. Pic: Navya P K

We are coordinating with Metro in an intensive way to see that the Metro work finishes and all roads that are blocked due to Metro are opened. Once these roads open, traffic will ease a lot. Our main job is to ensure people maintain discipline on the road, and so all kinds of enforcement – whether it is overspeeding enforcement, drunken driving or signal jumping, we are going all out.

We are also keeping a watch on the wholesale violators. Now we are cracking down on taxi drivers and taxi companies. Instead of catching individual taxi drivers on the roads, we are approaching their companies. Suppose company has 20 vehicles, we give them the complete list of all violations by their vehicles and recover fines from them. They in turn should recover fine from those drivers.

Recently Meru Cabs paid a fine of one and a half lakh rupees. Easy Cab paid one and half lakh rupees. Cel Cab paid about Rs 20,000. Violations include jumping signals, overspeeding, because many taxis think that nobody is watching them. So instead of stopping them for single offences, what we are doing is we are computerizing all records. They should take responsibility in disciplining their drivers.

When did you start this?

We started about two weeks back. Hundreds of companies have been caught in different areas in the city, thousands of offences. Companies are also taken by surprise. Taxi companies are major violators; they think the law doesn’t apply to them.

So you are focusing mainly on violations?

Yes, if people drive well, traffic will improve. Flyovers will come when they have to come. A flyover takes one year or 18 months to be made. We cannot push it faster. Just because there is a problem, that doesn’t mean people have the right to do just about anything on the road. Problems don’t get solved by breaking the rules. If you are waiting at a signal and you ride on a footpath, problem is not solved, it becomes more complicated. If people follow rules, half the traffic problems will be solved.

What has been done so far to cut down on bribes taken by the traffic police?

All of us have to take measures to stop bribes – if the public insist on getting receipt for fines, the question of bribes does not arise. Only policemen of the rank of Assistant Sub Inspector and above are authorised to collect fines. If an unauthorised policeman is asking you for bribes, he will let you go as soon as you insist on getting a receipt.

In 90 per cent of cases, bribing occurs as the offender tries to settle his case by bribing the police. Instead of giving a Rs 100 fine and getting a receipt, he will try to settle the issue by bribing the police with Rs 50, which is a win-win situation for both. Ultimately it’s the government that is suffering loss of revenue.

But has the department taken any steps specifically to deter officers from taking bribes?

Can you imagine a way in which action can be taken? Whenever we receive complaints from public regarding wrong fining, we take strict action. Recently more than 20 policemen were suspended on the basis of such complaints. The only way to stop bribes is by empowering the public.

In the traffic police’s website we have mentioned the steps public can take to prevent bribing. Usually people do not come ahead with complaints as they are also responsible, but if I we receive a complaint and there is no response to it, then I will be responsible for that.

Moving on to a different topic, do you think there is any problem with the way roads and flyovers are designed and have you made any suggestions?

There are many wrongs, not only here, in every city. That way, why just flyovers, I would say there are lot of things wrong with the homes. People don’t have parking space and have 2-3 cars, which they park on the roads. Companies don’t have parking space, but have clients, so they park on the roads. Flyovers, which were designed say 10 years back, have become oversaturated.

Somebody who made his house in 1950 never dreamt he will have a car one day. He never thought of anything beyond a cycle. Today he has one, two or three cars which are parked in the public space. Even those who planned for two cars have five cars today. Husband has one car, wife one car, daughter and sons, thankfully servants don’t have cars. These are all historical mistakes. That’s why there are so many flyovers that were made in 1990 or 1980 and the traffic pattern has totally changed since then. When the airport was towards HAL, a flyover would have been made considering movement in that direction as a priority. When airport shifted to Devanahalli, entire traffic moved that side. So when traffic pattern changes, we have to adjust accordingly.

From your side, have you proposed any changes to the designs of constructions?

We can propose, but these are technical issues. We are not engineers. Traffic police can only tell the practical aspects. People who construct it – BBMP or BDA, they have to see the technical aspects. Sometimes you don’t make a flyover the way it should be because the cost of acquisition is too much, or there may be high rise buildings in all the four corners. So you make the best possible solution, certainly not the best solution. Sometimes there will be money constraints or time constraints or people not allowing their houses to be broken or people not allowing trees to be cut. So we have to manage with whatever is given to us.

Are you being strict about parking violations also?

Parking spaces in Bengaluru for vehicles is not even 10,000 to 20,000. Where are the parking lots? Maybe 10,000-20,000 vehicles are parked in parking lots. Another couple of lakhs maybe parked in places without obstructing traffic. But lakhs of vehicles are parked in places where it obstructs traffic. You can’t tow lakhs of vehicles. We only monitor the arterial roads. We don’t do parking enforcement in residential areas and streets.

Towing one vehicle takes half an hour. In a day, a vehicle can tow 20-25 vehicles. You can’t tow lakhs of vehicles. Towing is done just to give a flavour to people that this (illegal parking) is wrong. We do parking enforcement in main roads; that too not to the full extend, it’s not possible.

But it may not be fair to the motorists as there are not enough parking spaces.

But that is not my problem. Our mandate is to keep the traffic moving, so we will tow vehicles away. So people can’t argue that ‘give me the parking space’. When you bought the car, you didn’t ask me. So we are not there to give any parking space, BBMP does.

Regarding the new systems that you suggested, can you tell me about the cost involved?

We are not talking of any cost, we going to enforce the discipline more strictly. There is no cost involved; we are using the same manpower, same equipments. So cost is not a consideration. Cost is involved for those who are making the infrastructure. When you are talking about cost, it’s the BBMP and BDA who should be making good roads, pothole free roads. We don’t do this, so we don’t have a money issue. So even if you give 200 crore rupees to me, the traffic is not going to move ten times faster. What do we do with money?

We can work with Rs 5-10 crores, we have that already. Our role is to see that people drive properly. Now the infrastructure is poor. Roads are dug up, roads are narrow. The junctions are getting oversaturated. These are the issues which require money, and this money has to be spent by Metro, BBMP, BDA, etc., not by us.

When will the new Traffic Management Centre (TMC) be completed?

By year end. We are going to spend around 20 crore rupees for that, which we have already paid. Our existing TMC is an interim TMC. It did wonderfully well. We know that there are space constraints and we know that we cannot manage it there. So the new building is under construction – three slabs are laid, another 4-5 slabs are to be laid. It will be at Infantry Road, next to Indian Express building. By the end of the year, it will be complete and the whole setup will be shifted to the new building in a larger scale.

Will the new centre have any improved facilities?

It will have much improved facilities. In our TMC we have 20-30 monitors now. These are time gap arrangements. Once we move to the new TMC, we will have video walls, not monitors. On completion it will be the best in the country and probably one of the best among advanced countries. 

Have you set any targets for anything that you are planning to do?

We have a beautiful target of collecting zero rupees as fine. Contrary to what people think – that we are happy collecting fines – we are not. This money means nothing to us. We are ashamed that every year 44-45 crore rupees is collected as fine. Our target is that no one should violate the law, and there should be no opportunity for collecting fine.

But the reality is quite contrary. If the policeman is not standing there, everyone will jump signal, everyone will overspeed, so we don’t feel proud about collecting this fine. We don’t have a target as to this much cases have to be booked. We have a target that people should not violate rules, so that we are not able to book cases, but unfortunately it is not happening. 

Regarding the traffic in the city, can you make a comparison between how it is today and how it was, say 10 years back?

Certainly, there’s difference. If you see the number of vehicles, that’s being added. In 2000, we had 14 lakh vehicles in Bangalore city. In 2009, we have 36 lakh vehicles. Our point is, we can go on making flyovers, go on widening roads, adding roads, but if we don’t stop this increase in the number of private vehicles, no solution is going to work. Ten years ago also we cribbed about traffic, when it was 14 lakh, now lot of things, lot of flyovers have happened, still we are cribbing because the number of vehicles have become two-and-half times. That is why we need a robust public transport system. People should use public transport, then roads will be de-clogged.

 

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About Navya P K 241 Articles
Navya P K is a former senior staff journalist at Citizen Matters, and a freelance journalist based in Kerala.

4 Comments

  1. I would like to bring to everyone’s notice that on the Intermediate ring Road between Kormanagala and Indiranagar the speed limit is 60 KM/ hr however in the entire stretch this speed limit signs/notifications are not being displayed unlike on Bellary road. This is leading to many times inadvertent violations and paying of fines . I think levying and collecting fines is part of deterrence system and not a revenue generation system and it is important for the traffic police to first create awareness by putting the signs before they start booking traffic violations.
    Few days back I was booked for over speeding on the same road and I was driving with the view that vehicles are permitted to ply within 70 KMPH- 80 KMPH. So this was totally inadvertent from my side and I could not find a single speed limit sign in the entire stretch of the road.

    I would also like to know if there is a way this matter can be brought to the right authorities notice so that action can be taken.

  2. Can traffic police do the same for BMTC?

    Fine BMTC if their driver doesn’t follow the rules.

    Rules should also include, if the buses don’t stop at the allotted bus stops BMTC is fined.

  3. More suggestions:
    1. We have to bear the whole cost of vehicle ownership eg. Parking does not come free and public roads should not be used for parking. Home owners have to make arrangements in their own land for parking. Businesses should provide free or paid parking to customers. Private parking structures can survive as a business.
    2. We need more meaningful penalties and fines: A Rs 100 fine is not a deterrent as it is just considered a cost of business, a Rs. 500 with the threat of license confiscation on recurrence is likely to be.
    3. More traffic patrol vehicles and empowered as well as accountable police officers to enforce lane usage, heavy vehicles etc.
    4. A systematic campaign to educate citizens on good behaviour in traffic. Private TV channels can take up this public service responsibility.
    5. A culture of respect for and protection of the pedestrian and the cyclist: by providing a safe footpath, safe and easy crossing of vehicular traffic (not build structures which make it harder for them).
    6. The traffic police in Bangalore has an unfortunate habit of going after “soft targets” – vehicles registered outside Karnataka – the intent should be to regulate traffic and not to harass motorists.

  4. Thanks for highlighting the efforts of a modern and efficient officer in public service. Great example of how good leadership can make a difference – especially seeing how badly the traffic is managed in cities like Hyderabad. It is impressive to see the amount of automation and technology that have been implemented in Bangalore – eg. the traffic portal http://www.btis.in/ and http://www.bangaloretrafficpolice.gov.in; the introduction of smart cards for drivers licenses and vehicles; the introduction of Blackberry devices + wireless printers for traffic fine. It is heartening to see that Mr. Sood and the Bangalore traffic police have considered most of the problems of bad traffic and growing vehicular population. They need more help from the other regulators involved in tackling major traffic problems- the RTO (in meaningful licensing and safe driving instruction), the BBMP and BDA (better road design, use of rotaries and good over/underpass design), BMTS+Metro (in providing adequate public transport for Bangalore’s growing population), and the Karnataka Government (laws that are designed with modern cities in mind, continuing support to officials, defining meaningful penalties etc.). Most importantly support from the common citizens in understanding the role of the traffic police in improving the quality of life in Bangalore.

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