Dawn Metro (Oct 26, 2017) reported that Punjab Inspector General (IG) Arif Nawaz Khan has given the go-ahead for another, yes another, police force to ‘address chronic traffic problems in the city’.
The City Traffic Police established by the government of erstwhile chief minister Pervaiz Elahi started out extremely well. The grey-uniformed officers were well-spoken and very business-like. And for a while people began to obey traffic rules. Along came the government of CM Shahbaz Sharif and what the ‘enemy’ had established had to be done away with.
Friends in Rescue 1122 allege that CM Sharif made serious attempts to abolish this first-class public service (also set up by the ‘enemy’). He failed because of public pressure. However, friends who served in traffic police tell me that the tacit order was to simply lay off violators.
By about 2010, it was common that a driver running through a red light and consequently stopped by a traffic warden would whip out his mobile phone and after a word or two with someone on the line hand it over to the officer. My informant told me that nearly always the person on the other end was some insignificant underling or someone connected in an indirect way to the police. Once he even got to speak with the gardener from the IG’s office!
On one occasion when a traffic officer gave a ticket to a motorcycle rickshaw driver for recklessness near Babu Sabu, the driver promptly shinnied up a power pylon and threatened to jump. TV cameras homed in and since every government office has a TV set perpetually playing, the ‘errant’ traffic warden was at once suspended.
That, according to my friend in the force, was the turning point. He said the late Masud Hasan was spot on calling his colleagues ‘grey cardboard dummies’. Traffic officers in the entire province knew they were to simply ignore violators, especially those from the lower social stratus such as rickshaw drivers.
In July, Metro (July 23, 2017) reported: Man “sets his rickshaw on fire” over challan. A rickshaw driver had an exchange of harsh words with a warden for being pulled over. The warden persisted in his duty and the driver set his motor alight. A friend who witnessed this entire episode relates that the rickshaw veered onto The Mall from Fane Road and very nearly caused a speeding motorcycle to crash into a car running parallel.
But get this: “Chief Traffic Officer Rai Ijaz Ahmad took notice of the incident... The CTO also issued a generalised warning to wardens not to issue challans and only give warning to citizens over minor violations or mistakes.”
What, I ask, is a minor violation on roads with traffic as unruly and dangerous as ours? Whenever anyone runs through a red light, they endanger lives of other road users. Likewise, when moped riders without rearview mirrors drive in the middle of the road or meander all over the tarmac totally unmindful of other road users. And what of the driver who abruptly stops in the middle of a busy road to ask directions from someone on the other side of the road? Or the one who nonchalantly drives on the wrong side of the road?
And now we have the IG telling us the new traffic enforcers -- to be named Shaheen Force -- will be equipped with 600 motorcycles. But with a deadwood CTO who only wants brownie points with erring citizens to oversee the mayhem on our road, no Force – not even the one that characters in Star Wars wish upon each other – can do anything to make things better.
The worthy IG and his underling Rai Ijaz should understand the traffic situation will never improve if officers in situ do not come down hard on violators. Warnings will not work for we must remember we are ‘demons who understand only the language of the kick’ (from the old Urdu adage). Phones handed over to officers should be smashed on the road or at least confiscated; tickets should be awarded for the most minor traffic violation.
While the IG is at it, he could perhaps cast a critical eye on the innumerable ‘driving schools’. Themselves untrained and without a clue of driving regulations, those so-called instructors only emphasise blowing the horn the minute anything moves on the road ahead. As well as that they teach that the rear view mirror be ignored. From one learner I heard that a woman instructor told her to forget the mirror because the driver behind should be mindful of the car in the front!
But this is Pakistan. The IG will never know how traffic can get better. The same way as CM Shahbaz Sharif still does not know that widening of roads will never ever ease traffic.
Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2017