At a four-road intersection near Besant Women’s College in Mangalore, a 49-year-old man sporting an orange reflector jacket over a neatly pressed Khaki shirt, trouser and black shoes, flags down an errant SUV from Kalakunj road. This gives the on-duty traffic constable enough time for not only clearing the traffic from MG Road (PVS circle to Ladyhill circle), but also to allow some school children to cross the road to safety – another job well done.
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But the duo cannot yet heave a sigh of relief, for over the next three hours between 5 and 8 pm, Ramesh Gowda and the designated constable will have to clear and manage a series of oncoming vehicles and people, and prevent a pile-up at the main road intersection.
A father of two, Ramesh Gowda is not a traffic cop, however. Neither is he attached to the Traffic Warden Squad (TWS). Professionally an auto-driver, Gowda, a native of Chikmagalur district, says he has been playing his role as a ‘Traffic-Samaritan’ for nearly eight years now. “Earlier, I used to help accident victims reach the hospital and encourage them to file police complaints; it brought me a lot of satisfaction and eventually the local police took note and proposed that I help them in traffic regulation in certain areas,” he shares.
TWS members have been generally told by their higher-ups to deploy themselves in those areas where a cop is present. As a matter of courtesy, the TWS personnel generally take permission from traffic policeman in charge before performing their duty. They say that while most of the police constables accept their help, sometimes they refuse.
While Gowda is not formally attached to the TWS, he follows the same practice. While such volunteers do not have any fixed timings, they mostly take on traffic regulation after their working hours and depute themselves in areas known to be prone to motor congestion.
It’s not just Ramesh Gowda who serves as a non-affiliated volunteer in the city. In the stretch between Valencia-Kankanadi-Bendoor-Mallikatte-Nanthoor and Karnataka Polytechnic College (KPT), you will find several non-uniformed locals who are actively involved in clearing traffic alongside the policemen, especially during peak hours between 8am and 10 am, 12:30 pm and 2 pm and again, from 5 pm to 8 pm.
An insurance agent by day, 45-year-old Sunil D’Souza has also been moonlighting as a volunteer to regulate traffic at Nanthoor Junction. He says he is expecting the department to provide him with a reflector jacket soon. “A whistle helps me to draw the attention of the motorist. However at night, reflector jackets are also necessary as people fail to notice the presence of the traffic controller especially at intersections. Some motorists are quite fast in their driving and it poses a major risk to our life,” he adds.
Another, local traffic volunteer Nelson Anil Mascarenhas who mans a intersection in Valencia says that his presence also helps the newly deputed constable settle down with ease. “We give them a general sense of the area, introduce them to local people and make them feel a part of the community. I also encourage the local people to casually engage the constables in chit-chat, so that they feel relaxed,” he says.
A real need
According to state departmental sources, although the sanctioned strength for the Mangalore City traffic police is 315 personnel, the actual strength remains 266. On the other hand, by September 30th the total number of vehicles registered at Mangalore RTO (Mangalore and Bantwal Taluk) had risen to 6,54,739. At that rate every traffic cop has a burden of 2461 vehicles, and the number continues to rise every day.
Police officials add that the service of the volunteer is needed as it becomes extremely difficult for the police to manage vehicular movement during peak hours. “We manage roads that have outdated layout and are not wide enough to accommodate the present traffic density; eventually we either witness traffic jams or bottlenecks during peak hours. So, obviously we are more than happy to receive any help or assistance,”, the official said.
This is corroborated by 96-year old Chief Traffic Warden, Joe Gonsalves, who adds, “Of course, the traffic department is overburdened with ever-increasing motor population. Besides traffic regulation, they have to look into parking violations, flag errant drivers, impose penalties and so on. Being understaffed, it is difficult for them to manage so many roles on their own.”
It was thus that the Mangalore City Police in consultation with their counterparts in the state capital Bengaluru and in other cities such as Bhubaneswar, Noida and Mumbai started experimenting with a Traffic Warden Squad (TWS) and other interventions to resolve traffic issues.
The TWS programme, however, has received a lukewarm response with only 12 active volunteers participating till date. While TWS personnel can also report traffic or parking violations, they do not have any enforcement authority such as the issuance of traffic challans.
The government on its part provides them with Identity Cards (ID), but they are not entitled to any remuneration or resources from the government; their contribution is both driven and compensated by goodwill. Moreover, unlike the traffic constables, the TWS personnel are not covered under any health schemes for hazardous working condition.
Gowda further cautions that not everyone appreciates their voluntary service; some people have been rude and scolded him, others have felt offended on being stopped and have questioned Gowda’s authority in traffic regulation.
“It’s normal I guess, for every 90 good people we find 10 who are upset with people like me. Although, it’s good because it makes me feel accountable. To remain connected with this voluntary job, I have to remain positive and policemen in office have advised me to ignore any negative, indifferent reaction from people.This helps us to be more focused on our actual work,” he says.
The rewards lie elsewhere. For example, he feels elated when senior police officers return his salute as a part of their routine protocol. “For a person without any formal education, it matters a lot when the police or RTO officials smile, acknowledge my service and reply to me with a salute, similar to how they respond to other officers. I feel happy to know that even I am a socially recognised member of the community,” he says.
Speaking to Citizen Matters, CTW Gonzalves says he is mulling over the creation of a fund that would look into providing essential training and apparel to traffic wardens, such as uniform, whistles and protective gears so that many more people would be encouraged to formally induct themselves in the voluntary cause.
While adding that the government is already looking into the vacancies in the traffic police department and induction of new personnel is already underway, Additional Commissioner of Police for Traffic, Tilak Chandra says that substantial deployment of human resources alongside technological resources such as CCTV and automation centres have reduced the number of traffic incidents and improved the efficiency of its personnel.
Given the difference in socio-economic, cultural and regional background of the newly deployed constable cadre, the police department is providing them soft-skills training on local languages such as Tulu, customs and extension of courtesies, so that the friction between the police and public is minimal.
“Despite an increase in the number of vehicles, the rate of fatal accidents has come down from 106 (2015) to 67 (2017). Also surpassing the previous years, a record penalty of 1.66 cases have been booked and Rs. 1.73 crore penalty has been collected,” he says.
Police officials say that while they routinely conduct traffic awareness sessions across various colleges in the city, they are now thinking of impressing the state education department to include traffic awareness as a part of their curricular Civics study. “Once enacted as a subject, students will understand the basic principles of traffic regulation and it will help in indoctrinating better civic sense and values in them,” the official added.
Besides, in a parallel development, the traffic department is enrolling undergraduate level students as traffic wardens. As of now, officials say 12 have been enrolled, but soon, more institutions will be covered and they are optimistic that an increase in recruitment will soon follow.