IN yet another incident of public rage against traffic sentinels a person was attacked by a mob at Vasco on Wednesday. The ‘crime’ of the traffic sentinel Alfred Almeida was that he was recording traffic violations on his mobile seated in his car. The mob pulled him out of his car and battered him. He had to be taken to hospital for treatment of injuries. Despite being informed by the sentinel of imminent attack the police took a long time to reach the scene of crime which is just a few hundred metres from the police station. This is the third major incident against traffic sentinels in as many months. The attacks reveal that the sentinels, who are part of the government-run scheme aimed at community policing to bring about discipline on the roads, can carry out their responsibility only to their peril. It is apparent that those who were involved in the attack on the sentinels were fined by the police for violating laws based on the recordings provided by the sentinels. What is also apparent is that the violators took law in their hands as police have failed to establish deterrence.
The Vasco violence was recorded by closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, whose footage helped police to track down and arrest two young men who attacked Almeida. They were let off on bail, but a case of rioting, abusing, wrongfully restraining and threatening to kill the traffic sentinel has been booked against them. Though the two young persons were involved in a criminal act, a large number of people gathered at the Vasco police station in their support, which just shows the solidarity among violators. Similar incidents had happened at Caranzalem and Shiroda when mobs gathered to teach the sentinel a lesson, with the police failing to take strong action against them. The attack on the Vasco sentinel could have been prevented had the police acted promptly. Let us hope that now that they have arrested two persons they should do a proper and fearless investigation to get the sentinel justice.
The traffic sentinel scheme is turning out to be dangerous for ordinary citizens who have opted to participate in it to help the police penalize violators of traffic rules. Had the police and transport department been effective in the first place in the enforcement of traffic rules we would not have needed traffic sentinels. It is owing to their failure that violators have got used to committing violations and getting away. One of the common violations is not wearing of helmets. The drivers of four-wheelers often indulge in over speeding, overtaking, talking on phone while driving and driving down one-way roads in the opposite direction. The motorists do not like to be penalized. Often they seek the help of politicians to escape penalties. Most politicians oblige the law breakers despite knowing well that violation of traffic rules can cost lives, including of the persons being rescued from penalty. However, the police often exaggerated political influence to justify their ineffective enforcement of traffic rules. The traffic police never used its human resources maximally to strike the fear of law in the hearts of the motor vehicle drivers.
The starting of the traffic sentinel scheme was a way the police found in order to cover up its own failure at effective enforcement. The police made the job attractive by giving rewards in terms of cash and other prizes. The result was that the number of violations recorded rose astronomically with the support of the sentinels. The persons who joined as traffic sentinels should not be seen to have been motivated only by the lure of a little extra cash; they are carrying out a social responsibility of making the citizens abide by rules. However, the Director General of Police should not think that the job of his department is over once they pay the sentinel little cash for giving them the information of violations. He has to provide protection to the sentinels too. The three incidents have shown that the traffic sentinels are doing their job at great risk to their life and their property. If the police are not going to protect the traffic sentinels, the whole idea of community policing will prove to be a farce. The DGP cannot hope to stop future attacks on sentinels by merely appealing to the ‘conscience’ of the people. He must back the sentinels with a strong voice against violators and strong action to deter them from attacking sentinels. The three incidents should not be seen as exceptions. They show that traffic violators have united to fight off detection. The police cannot put down the violence of violators by joining their palms and begging them to be nice and law-abiding.