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Apr 20, 2017 04:13 PM IST | Source:

Farewell lal batti, a beacon of power and terror

Let's take a look at how the red beacon came to be used and misused, loved and hated.

As the country cheers the Union Cabinet's decision to pull the plug on red beacon on vehicles, including the Prime Minister's, it would do well to remember that the move had its beginnings in 2013.

The Supreme Court had then decided to put an end to the ‘lal batti’ culture and urged officials — government and otherwise — to do away with the red beacon atop their vehicles.

Observing that the red beacon is a perceived as a status symbol which in turn creates a divide in the society, the court had in 2014 issued a list of dignitaries who could use beacons on vehicles. According to the list, only the Governor, Chief Minister, Chief Justice of the High Court, Assembly Speaker, Ministers and Judges of the High Court were allowed to use the red light.

"After May 1, no one will be able to put red light atop his/her vehicle. Blue light will be used only for emergency vehicles in the country...Neither the states nor the Centre will have power to give any special permission (for use of beacon lights)," Jaitley had said.

Things are set to change with Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsing the decision on Twitter, but let's take a look at how the red beacon came to be used and misused, loved and hated.

Lal Batti: Both a power tool and criminal getaway

The Internet is sprinkled with videos and instances of citizens criticising those using the beacon. Many now hope that it will put an end to the VIP culture. One such instance, and one that could have far worse implications was the attack on Parliament in 2001. The authorisation of the beacon to anyone and everyone made it easy for the terrorists involved in the attack to get away with security checks. They zoomed into the Parliament complex and shot security officials on duty.

Another alarming issue has been the blatant use of the red light to zoom past traffic signals and toll booths.

Those who welcomed the move to get rid of the beacon

Even in the absence of a stringent law to deter misuse of "Lal Batti", many ministers gave up privilege in order to bridge the gap with the common man.

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal willingly gave up the use of the beacon and also trimmed the list of officials who were entitled to have it atop their cars.

Who says I am not authorised?

IAS and IPS officers have important roles. However, they were never entitled to use red light. Also, in Punjab under the rule of the previous government, Shiromani Akali Dal leaders at all levels, leaders of local bodies, even candidates who lost the Assembly elections, appropriated the red beacon.
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