President Ram Nath Kovind has sent condolences to Vandana Mishra’s family, after her death in Kanpur late Friday night, when the car carrying her to hospital was stopped for the presidential convoy to pass. But while the president’s response is in keeping with obligations of his high office, the Kanpur tragedy is by no means unique. VVIP convoys have become yet another manifestation of a political and administrative culture where public servants’ self-esteem depends on the distance they can maintain from the public. Police are overzealous because they respond to a system where public inconvenience is extremely low priority.
VVIP convoys in Indian cities are particularly unwelcome. Most cities suffer terrible traffic congestion – in Mumbai it is estimated that a trip takes about 53% more time than it should, in Bengaluru 51%, and in New Delhi 47%. On top of this there are few green corridors for ambulances. So, road blockades set up to smoothen VVIP movement worsen the situation painfully. There was hope following the 2017 Union Cabinet decision to end the lal batti raj. But long snaking VVIP convoys aren’t part of this change. And MLAs from Haryana to Himachal Pradesh have tried to retain traffic privileges with flags atop their vehicles.
By contrast, in America the idea of holding up citizens for hours for the convenience of politicians would be laughable. In New Zealand, when the PM’s motorcade was caught over the speed limit, it was fined for dangerous driving. In Scandinavian countries, far from reserving a faster lane for themselves, netas take public transport shoulder to shoulder with citizens. This is the direction our democracy must take too. For VVIP protection, the state must deploy smarter security arrangements, and nix those convoys. When public servants are driven, let the public not be driven to despair, or worse.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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