The Navhind Times Archive

Police Fail To Protect Sentinel From A Mob

BEING a traffic sentinel proved costly to a shopkeeper in Shiroda, who had to not only shut down his shop but also flee the village. The “crime” of the shopkeeper, who was dealing in mobiles and other electronic gadgets, was that he recorded traffic violations in the area, especially on the Shiroda-Ponda road and reported them to the police. His reporting led to several local residents receiving traffic challans from the traffic police. Rather than apologizing for, repenting and committing themselves not to repeat their illegal acts, the locals decided to drive the traffic sentinel away from their village. They succeeded in identifying him and marched to his shop, forcing him to shut it down. They forced the landlord to terminate his lease with the shopkeeper.

The incident  is bound to spread fear among traffic sentinels. The director general of police and the superintendent of police cannot hope to get support from traffic sentinels if their men leave them to the mercy of mobs. On Sunday, when the traffic sentinel at Shiroda was being hounded, the policemen present on the spot preferred not to confront the mob. They let irate traffic violators take the law in their hands to punish the sentinel for the challans they had received. How can the police expect “public cooperation” when they stand as mute spectators as a mob subjects a “proactive citizen” to cruelty, eviction, mental harassment and loss of livelihood?

The silence of the policemen present can only be read as one of two things: either they were hand in glove with the traffic violators or they are not fit to be policemen. Did they and the joint mamlatdar, who was also present, not act because some of those who attacked the traffic sentinel enjoyed political patronage? The DGP must dispel such notions by taking disciplinary action against the policemen who were mute spectators. If that is the kind of police behaviour when traffic sentinels are attacked, Shiroda would prove as an instigating example for traffic violators all over the state who would start hounding the traffic sentinels they manage to identify. If the trend continues, the traffic sentinel scheme would fold up, leaving the state as a free zone for traffic violators.

The traffic sentinel scheme was launched by the Goa police last year to get citizens to participate in better management of traffic. The scheme has been a great success, with more than a thousand traffic violations reported daily by 1,500 traffic sentinels registered with the police. This has helped police to not only impose fines on the violators but also improve enforcement of road discipline. The appointment of traffic sentinels has also taken pressure off from traffic police personnel to a significant extent, who being limited in number could not man every road to book violators. It has also helped people including youth to supplement their income legally. Some got good prizes. One of the bulwarks of the successor story of the traffic sentinel scheme is absolute confidentiality of the identity of the informants. The police are supposed to protect the identity of the sentinels, to the extent that even the prize winners are not openly identified. The DGP must order a probe to find out if the name of the Shiroda sentinel was leaked by someone in his department. Even if it was not, the Shiroda incident should teach him a lesson that stronger measures have to be taken to guarantee that the sentinels are not identified.

The traffic violators who hounded the shopkeeper at Shiroda must not feel very proud of what they have done. First, they break the traffic laws, and then they form a mob to deprive the man of his daily shop and livelihood. They should have become disciplined after paying the fine in order to avoid being fined again or being made to lose their licence. Instead, they compounded their violations of law with more violations of law. They should hang their heads in shame as the shopkeeper was only acting as a vigilant and responsible citizen. Thousands of Goans have died in road accidents over the years. Thousands of others have been maimed. The traffic rules are intended to provide safety to all who are using the road. Following the rules would also protect the lives and limbs of those who have been booked for offences on the basis of information gathered by traffic sentinels. Let us hope the police bosses review their sentinel protection scheme and take penal steps against those who leak out their names and do not protect them when a mob attacks them.

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