Bengaluru’s traffic cop shortage: Can technology, mannequins bridge the gap?

Bengaluru has only around 4,600 traffic cops for a vehicle population of over 80 lakh. Administrators are trying to bridge the gap with technology, but experts say technology without expertise and infrastructure doesn’t help

The Bengaluru Traffic Police (BTP) has a current strength of 4,638 personnel. Its sanctioned strength is 5,306 personnel, as per data obtained from the Traffic Management Centre.

On the face of it, this indicates a shortfall in recruitment, of 12.59 per cent. Most of these — 598 vacancies out of the 668 — are for the post of police constables, the men on the street. 

The shortfall may not seem like much.  Almost every police department in the country has some vacancies due to multiple reasons, says Bengaluru’s Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) B R Ravikanthe Gowda. “It is not a serious one and not a hindrance to the BTP’s operations of implementing traffic rules and regulating traffic as of now,” he assures. 

Recruitments are a continuous process, he points out, revealing that the government increased the number of sanctioned staff from 3,600 to the current figure in 2016. But no revision had been done after that.

It is when one juxtaposes these numbers with the vehicle population of Bengaluru that a perspective emerges. 

A 2015 report by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, which works under the Ministry of Home, recommends one traffic personnel for every 700 vehicles. For Bengaluru, which has about 80,00,000 registered vehicles and counting, the prescribed strength of traffic personnel would be 11,429. By this logic, the shortfall is 54 per cent. In other words, there is less than half the required number of traffic policemen to regulate Bengaluru’s notorious traffic.

Little wonder then that the most common citizens’ complaint on public forums is about unmanned traffic junctions. The police have an explanation for this too. Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Bengaluru East, K V Jagadeesh pointed out that several personnel are drawn away for bandobust duties. 

Ravikanthe Gowda said all junctions do not require to be manned by personnel. Many junctions are regulated using technology. Wherever technology cannot be used, or if its usage is going to create a problem, then human resources are used, he said.

In recent weeks, the BTP deployed mannequins — dressed as policemen — at 200 traffic junctions. Wasn’t this move meant to cover the shortfall of policemen? 

Ravikanthe Gowda, JCP (Traffic), denied that deployment of the mannequins indicated a shortage of personnel. His logic – a motorist when he sees a mannequin, will be encouraged to break the rules. And when real policemen replace these mannequins, and when motorists pass the same junction, they will still think it’s a mannequin and break the law. Result: they will be stopped and fined.

Experts agree that the system of managing and regulating traffic calls for a greater integration with technology and less reliance on human resource. But there are riders.

Dr Ashish Verma Associate Professor, Transportation Systems Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, says that in the Western countries, there are very few traffic police personnel on the streets because they rely on technology, artificial intelligence and analytics for traffic management and regulation.

In most Western cities, an entity comprising professionals from backgrounds such as transportation and traffic engineering are tasked with traffic management. He advocates the same system for Indian cities since, given the rate of growth of vehicles, the number of traffic personnel will always be inadequate.

In the Bengaluru context, however, technology seems to be an end in itself.

Verma points out how the Traffic Management Centre in Bengaluru works: “All decisions are taken by constables without analytics or artificial intelligence involved. They take decisions based on their manual understanding. This is not the way we should be doing traffic management, at least in the IT capital of India.”

Urban transport expert Pavan Mulukutla says that streamlining the traffic management system requires much more than just an increase in personnel. He advocates improvement in infrastructure, installation of more technology, adoption of a community programme wherein the government works with resident welfare associations (RWAs) that would contribute to regulate traffic and enforce rules, and making working conditions better for traffic police personnel.

Regarding skills the BTP requires for traffic engineering and management, Mulukutla said they did not require any specific skills but a change in mindset. The focus, he believes, must shift towards  moving people rather than vehicles, and paying attention to pedestrian mobility. “Once all this is in place, they will automatically do their job well,” he added.

Former head of the Karnataka police S T Ramesh, while acknowledging the role of technology in traffic management says that the physical presence of policemen on the road will play a huge part in road discipline. (Read Ramesh’s full comment here.)

Technology in traffic management

About 1,100 CCTVs have been installed in Bengaluru to monitor traffic. They are located at junctions and also on certain minor roads. They are monitored round the clock at the Traffic Management Centre (TMC) in Vasanth Nagar. Personnel at TMC work in three shifts, and during any shift about 15 personnel monitor all the CCTV cameras.

Apart from CCTVs, adaptive signals, which take into account traffic patterns from their video feed and then determine the timings of signals, are being used at 35 junctions. Automatic red light violation detectors (RLVD) are being used at 10 junctions, and these also capture the license plates of the vehicles. Speed guns are used on some main roads to measure and record speeds of vehicles and are used to detect over-speeding.

Ten junctions where RLVDs have been deployed:
  • MG Road-Brigade Road junction
  • Chalukya junction
  • Ejipura junction
  • Shantinagar junction
  • ASC junction
  • PES college junction
  • Adugodi junction
  • Doddaballapur road junction (Yelahanka)
  • Parappana Agrahara junction
  • KR Puram-Battarahalli junction

Technology in the form of CCTVs are being used to penalise violators. About 20,000 challans are being issued every day this way. “Our personnel stand at junctions not just for enforcement, they also carry out regulation of traffic. If the regulation is good, then there will be no need for enforcement,” Ravikanthe Gowda says.

Traffic police recruitment and training

The roles and responsibilities of traffic police include enforcement of traffic rules by penalising violators, manning critical junctions to prevent congestion and accidents, installation and maintenance of traffic signals, resolution of congestions after they occur, taking steps to improve traffic flow etc.

All police personnel undergo a nine-month training regimen about their duties, responsibilities, powers, laws and physical fitness. The course also includes training regarding traffic rules, management and enforcement. After the course, those who are posted to the BTP undergo a 15-day orientation programme.

There is no separate recruitment for traffic police personnel. Instead, it is done together for both law-and-order and traffic personnel. Transfers from one department to the other are common, but police personnel say it is not an issue because personnel of both departments keep undergoing training and refresher courses. In addition, new joinees to the traffic department undergo a 15-day orientation programme.

What can we do?

The BTP has invited citizens to volunteer as traffic wardens. Citizens can join the Bengaluru City Police Traffic Warden Organisation (BCP TWO) to help the traffic police regulate traffic. DCP Traffic (East) Jagadeesh said that currently 383 wardens are enrolled with the BTP. About 250 more are to be listed soon.

In September, Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao called for more citizens to volunteer as traffic wardens. The department planned to deploy 2,500 wardens, he said.

How can you apply to become a traffic warden? Citizens between the age of 18 and 55 and having completed grade 12 education can apply. Application form can be downloaded from the website or can be obtained at traffic police stations.

The filled form, along with photographs and documents as mentioned in the form, should be submitted at the office of the Chief Traffic Warden at the Traffic Management Centre in Vasanth Nagar. After this, the applicant will be interviewed by the Chief Traffic Warden and senior traffic officials, and will undergo a one-day training, and will then be informed of his or her selection. Find more details in our guide on becoming a traffic warden in Bengaluru.

Also read:

The thankless job of a traffic cop on Outer Ring Road

No additional budget or police personnel to manage traffic on bus priority lane: JCP Ravikanthe Gowda

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