As of December 26, 2011
Narsimha Reddy would have never thought that he would be on the receiving end of what his job is about. Working as HG (Home Guard) for HTP (Hyderabad Traffic Police), on 13th July 2011, the trio of Narsimha Reddy, Kamalakar (HG) and Surya Prakash (HG) went on a ride in a single bike – unaware that Sashi – a hyderabadi denizen – had captured their violation in his camera to post it on the HTP Facebook page. On July 16, HTP administrator posted the picture back on the HTP page wall stating that an inquiry was conducted where the names of the three cops appeared and that direct challan were issued to the rider Narsimha Reddy along with the fine amount collected vide challan No.324903 U/Sec 128/177, 184 Motor Vehicles Act . The driver, Narsimha Reddy, was removed from Mobile duty and all three were sent for extra drill and severe punishment.
This was one of the cases where the HTP, with the help of city-zens, carried out its duty to ensure proper implementation of traffic rules and strict action against the violators. While it is true that any administration cannot function properly without the support of citizens, when citizens themselves become the watchdog along with the police, it ensures that the laws are not only followed but also the non-followers do not get away. Of course, this also means that, at times, the initiative backfires with HTP cops themselves been caught violating the rules – incident of Narsimha Reddy being one of them. However, with a larger picture in mind, the initiative has been successful. As the HTP attempts to become more tech-savvy, collaborating with citizens on social media is the most prudent choice. With the increasing popularity of FB (Facebook) among, not only the young generation, but also across the age groups, FB was one place they couldn’t have ignored. And as the results show, the endeavor has been successful with hundreds of posts everyday by citizens on traffic violations that are reported. Even HTP administration itself has been proactive in spreading messages on following traffic rules, better driving tips, caution messages, reporting of e-challans issued to the violators and addressing the doubts of many citizens on a daily basis.
For a city, which pays more than Rs.31 crore annually as traffic fines with close to 30 lakh traffic violations, there is a lot to look forward to with respect to traffic discipline. Jumping signal, triple/quadruple ride, fancy number plates, overloading, parking at “No Parking” and drunk driving are some of the most frequently observed violations. While these issues hold true for all the major cities of India, for a growing tier-2 city like Hyderabad, which competes with other second-league metros of India such as Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad and Gurgaon, traffic discipline is essential to ensure public safety.
Hyderabad Traffic Police Facebook Presence
Inspired by Delhi Traffic Police FB page (which has the largest FB followers among all the traffic police in India), HTP created its FB page on August 4, 2011. C V Anand (Addl. C.P. (Traffic)) took the responsibility, along with A Narsing Rao (ACP Traffic – VII), to set up a similar page for Hyderabad Traffic Police with an objective to enable citizens to play more active role in traffic management and rules implementation. The initiative aimed at spreading awareness about traffic rules, enabling citizens to report traffic violations by other citizens, clarify their doubts on fines for different violations and report corruption at various levels. The page received an overwhelming response with 17,899 followers, as of December 25, (fifth largest after Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Pune) and is expected to cross 18,000 mark by the year-end. The page receives more than 100 posts every day on various issues ranging from traffic rules violations to queries on challan to traffic rules awareness campaigns.
Inspired by the success of pilot project undertaken by Cyberabad Traffic Police, HTP introduced e-challan system in 2007. Set up at the cost of Rs.38 lakhs, e-challan system significantly reduced the burden on the cops to catch the violators and issue them challans. Instead, under the new system, the cops only had to note down the number of the vehicle by writing or clicking photograph through high-resolution camera and notify to central database which fetched the information about the vehicle and the owner from the RTO and send e-challan on the address of the vehicle owner. This system helped cops to spend more time in traffic management instead of struggling with violators. Off late, HTP has also installed cameras at various traffic junctions that keep the track of any violations and click the photograph of the violators. Speaking in an interview, ACP Narsing Rao said, “This is the only e-challan system in the country that issues challans on the basis of the photographic evidence of the violations”. The HTP is also expected to issue challans along with the photographs as well in future. In its plan to improve e-challan system in 2012, HTP arrived with six things on its agenda (as mentioned on the FB page of December 26):
- Cut delay in e-Challan dispatch and delivery
- Ensure e-Challans to reach addresses in consultation with Postal Dept.
- Improve compliance / payments of e-Challan through special parties
- On the spot payment facility
- Increase payment gateways
- Introduce photograph of violation in e-Challan
Another unique feature of the system is that it is self-sustaining where violators, besides the fines as per the Motor Vehicles Act, also have to pay additional user charges of Rs.35, which is then divided between four departments – eSeva department, APTS (Andhra Pradesh Technology Services) department, postal department and police department. This means that no additional maintenance budget is required for the system.
However, one of the greatest challenges with e-challan system was the collection of the fines. With e-challans sent at the residences, the violators simply ignored the challans and did not pay the fine at eSeva kendras. In the first two years of the system, the collection rates remained abysmally low to about 30%. In order to increase the collection rates, HTP introduced PDA (Programmable Device Application) machines in 2009 which were handed over to the cops. The PDA machines were connected to a central server that fetched the history of challans issued for any vehicle in context and issued challans on the spot to the violator. The machines helped the HTP to increase the collection rates which is right now about 66%. This initiative is again one of its only kinds in the country and has inspired the traffic police departments of many other cities such as Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh and Coimbatore.
“These days we see a positive change in the attitude of 30%-40% of the road users. If the infrastructure is improved, automatically the change will go to 70%-80% of the road users”, said Mr. Narsing Rao
Going forward, HTP attempts to improve the traffic infrastructure of the city with new changes. The current traffic signaling system was incorporated in 2002 and since then, not many changes have been made in the system. However, HTP has already designed a new, integrated and automated signaling project. The project is expected to be rolled out in 2012. The new system will have new and more accurate equipments. The signals, under the new system, will be monitored and controlled through a central command system. In case of an equipment failure, the message will reach the central command system and the field officer will be required to change it within an hour, failing which, penalty will be imposed on the vendor. In Bangalore, the system is already in place.
Major Challenges and Citizens’ Contribution
Self-discipline among the drivers, corruption and collection of fines are the three principal challenges that HTP (and probably for that matter, the traffic police of any city) faces.
Healthy driving practices can only be taught to a certain extent. Cross-lane driving, turning after overtaking, turning without side-lights and unnecessarily blowing horn are some of the indiscipline that not only makes the driving unpleasant but also dangerous for others. Sometimes, it can also lead to fatal accidents. While rules can be imposed, violations cannot be avoided to 100%. Change in the attitude of the citizens, respect for those three lights (red, yellow, green) and, above all, respect for life is what will drive the change envisioned by the HTP.
Lack of self-discipline also leads to the second challenge, which is corruption. In an attempt to save money and avoid challans, violators often pay the cops directly – an extra income for the cops – which has resulted in rampant corruption on the streets. Through the introduction of technology, HTP has attempted to bring down the corruption levels as the violators are dealt through e-challans, sent at their registered addresses, which are to be paid at the eSeva centers. This does not leave scope for any settlement. There is also a helpline number available for citizens to lodge a complaint against any cop asking for bribe. However, the police seldom receive calls on the number.
In addition, collection of fines still remains a challenge as even the e-challans fail to force the citizens to pay their fines. As the large pool of violators do not pay their fines, HTP often conducts drills during off-peak hours – generally late night – where vehicles are stopped randomly to check if any challans are pending on them and they are released only after payments. However, this practice is still leaving the hole of 34% of the fines that remain to be collected.
In future, with new technological and infrastructural developments, HTP aims to improve the traffic system in the city and make it one of the best in the country. However, the biggest change is required from the citizens’ end. Greater collaboration is required in not only following the traffic rules but also ensuring that the violators are reported to the police. Attitude to follow rules in the cops’ presence only is what needs to change. Hopefully, as ACP Narsing Rao said, in future, 30%-40% will indeed increase to 70%-80% SOME DAY…..
Till then….. HAPPY AND SAFE DRIVING!!!