Governance · Law · Public Policy

Who will guard the guards?


The Supreme Court of India has been subject to close scrutiny over the past few months, with two recent judgments often being accused of judicial overreach:

1. The NOTA: ‘None of the Above’ option, giving voters the right to reject all contesting candidates in an election.

2. Red beacon lights without flashers would be used on the vehicles of only high constitutional functionaries and blue beacon lights will be used only on emergency services and police.

Whether or not this is judicial over-reach, or judicial activism is not the issue being discussed in this article. What this article talks about is whether this attempt to remove the red beacon, or as it is popularly known, the ‘lal batti’ culture is a good (even though the word is subjective) thing.

While the Supreme Court’s recent decisions are being viewed as a one-upmanship game between the judiciary and the legislature of this country, what really matters to us, the “mango” people is whether this is good for us.

It is next to impossible for anyone who is reading this to say that the flashing red beacon has not been a nuisance or hindrance to any activity of theirs at some point of time while travelling on Indian roads. The red beacon has been there for ever so long, that, perhaps, the possibility of abolishing it has never even occurred to the common man.

With more than 3 score years after the British have left our country, given it freedom, we still are obsessed with the archaic and essentially colonial concept of hierarchy and precedence. We have changed the names of railways stations to show that vestiges of colonial influence, or scars, have healed and left us. Yet, looks like deep inside, we want the influence to stay. Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus may be called that way officially, but I often hear “VT” echoing in our minds and sometimes words too. Do we let that stay the same when it comes to the red beacon, a symbol of deep rooted love for the hierarchal structure, which goes against the very idea of democracy and equality that the Constitution of the largest democracy in the world talks about.

Mr. Harish Salve, the senior counsel assisting the Supreme Court as amicus said, “Total expenditure is Rs.15.69 crore per month plus expenditure incurred on 20 sections of CRPF and 4 sections of CISF. 1294 public functionaries and private individuals have been provided security. Twenty-five  people who are children and family members have been provided such security.”

There are many tales and endless woes of people who have lost due to the lal batti, almost like the eponymous character in a book that talks about the misuse of authority and power.

Here’s one of the editors of a Delhi based newspaper: “Someone once called me saying he was the private secretary of the private secretary of the minister and was very proud of it. It’s absurd and I’m heartily sick of being hooted or stopped or having to pull off the road to make way for these people.”

“But beyond the one-upmanship lie practical benefits. VIPs, VVIPs or even VVVIPs – almost all government officials – can receive perks ranging from free housing in listed villas with staff paid by the government, bodyguards who act as personal assistants, free flights, unobstructed passage through airports or train stations as well as a significant degree of de facto legal impunity.”

So many real accounts of how the lal batti has troubled us. Yet, when the Guardian of the legislature, supposedly acting in excess of his power raises his head, sniffs the air, asks a question and gives his decision, we rebut, we ask counter questions, we say the same thing over and over again: “Who will guard the guards?”

About the Author

IMAG1016Aishwariya is an idealistic Law student from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She believes that a difference can be made by working at the grass root level. She enjoys painting, writing and reading. Her sincerest belief is that India still has hope.

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