Several of us have had the misfortune while driving to be harassed by cars with flashing red lights trying to get ahead under the pretext that it is carrying VIPs to their destinations. In the past few years, the number of such cars has increased exponentially giving us the impression that our Government functionaries, political and otherwise have no other business than to be on the roads, busily criss-crossing the city from meeting to meeting. It now appears that most of those using red lights were not in any way authorised to do so. And as usual, it has taken the Courts to try and set right this menace.

The matter came to judicial notice following a public interest litigation filed in the Tirupur Court. That town had apparently become a byword for official misuse of the privilege of using red lights on cars. Following an investigation it was revealed that only 19 persons were authorised to use the red lights. This included the Governor, Chief Minister, Speaker, Ministers, Mayors, Chief Justice and other judges, Director General of Police (Law and Order), ambulances, escort and pilot vehicles, Chairman and member of Advisory Board constituted under National Securities Act, zonal Inspectors General of Police (law and order). At the District Level, only the Collector and the Superintendent of Police are allowed to use the red light. In addition to these, the Nawab of Arcot, who is accorded the status of a Cabinet Minister is also allowed to use it. He incidentally is the only private citizen to be accorded this honour.

The Court has ordered that vehicles belonging to officials who not authorised to use red-lights but are doing so nevertheless be seized at once. The administration has promised that it will do the needful immediately. Which means that all those Vice Chancellors, Directors of Government Departments and political busybodies who had aggrandised for themselves the right to use these red lights will have to forfeit it. It may come as a sore disappointment to them but to the common man it will no doubt be a relief, for it will hopefully result in a fewer number of speeding Government cars that jump traffic lights on the sole strength of having a red light.

What is most disappointing however is the apathy of the administration that allows for such rampant misuse of official rights and perquisites. Is it not possible for the Government officials and our rulers to follow the law even in such simple matters as symbols of official status? Does it require a directive from the Courts when a decent level of self-regulation could have been practised in the first place? Perhaps what we need next is a public interest litigation demanding that chauffeurs of Government cars follow traffic discipline.