Friday, July 30, 2010

Traffic, the talking continues

Responding to The Bride's comment, I realised I might as well write a new post.

Bribes, here is my problem: the point of fines is to punish people for contravening a social contract, and act as a deterrent from making those violations. By this definition, yes it doesn't matter.

I'm letting my objection to violating said social contract stay out of this.

The other thing with fines is, they are a source of income, along with taxes, which many people evade in India. Those fines end up paying for flyovers, repairing potholes, building pavements, buying buses, etc. Granted, with corruption etc possibly half that money reaches its destination, if not less. Again, set aside the problems with corruption and suchlike. To have the kind of infrastructure one wants from a city, to have an MTR, you need the fines to go to the government, because the more that goes in, the more that eventually makes it way to the destination.

That's why I always pay fines.

They went through this period where they were writing down the license numbers of cars who ran traffic lights, parked illegally etc. But of course we were all bothered by this because frankly what's to stop someone from just making up a number or randomly picking numbers to have a quota filled? Camera surveillance is the best option there. But cameras are expensive to install at traffic intersections etc, and don't work for parking violations and so on. They did install a few here and there, but they hit upon the simple yet brilliant solution of giving the cops digital cameras. So one is now treated to the sight of a policeman slowly walking down the street in a measured way, taking a photograph of every car that's violating parking regulations. Some time later said person will receive a complicated legal letter that allows him/her, among other things, the option of compounding the offence* by paying the fine. Hilarious, no? But effective.

They also have them at major intersections with a lot of violations in a particular direction. By them I mean the skinny cop with his trusty digital camera, taking pictures of people running lights, etc. I've often wondered if I could just take a few myself of people driving the wrong way, making illegal u-turns on the flyovers, etc., and submit them. The next step maybe? Perhaps if Chandrababu Naidu was around with his e-obsession.

One thing that worries Appa occasionally is how, if you promptly pay the fine, you seem to get more. Of course they have photographic evidence of the violation, but there are about 5 people committing it at the same time as you, so do they send you the ticket because they know you'll pay? While I agree that if you've committed a violation you should indeed pay, the trouble is that half the time it's extremely difficult to know you're committing one. Many of the major traffic lights in our side of town are off most of the time, with a policeman directing traffic. Often there's one directing even when the light IS on, and if the cop is waving you through to run the light, can they then ticket you for it? There are lots of these weird lights on T-junctions, where the people going along the top of the T shouldn't have to stop, but the light will be red, and if you DO stop a cop will furiously wave you which of those lights are supposed to be obeyed and which aren't?


*Yup, compounding. I did a few double takes myself, and though wait they DON'T want me to pay? But BBot explained to me that there's a complicated and clearly archaic nomenclature in place that defines offences are compoundable and non-compoundable, where compoundable offences can be adjudicated by the police inspector/superintendent and can be settled by pootling down to the station and paying your fine. Non-compoundable ones have to go to court.


  1. I'm saying this as a person who has never actually paid a bribe. Been caught for a traffic violation only thrice - once I paid the fine, once I cried (I was really upset) and once I threatened to call the commissioner (I was sure I was in the right, and I was in the press then). So, in principle, I believe in what you're saying about the fines.

    In practice though:
    1. I don't really believe the fines (or the taxes) translate into infrastructure or anything really. I believe that India has enough revenue, despite evaded taxes and fines, to execute infrastructure projects far superior to what gets done, or at least to execute them at all (in most cases, no infrastructure is built... Hyderabad is better than most cities in this respect). I have paid taxes in India, at a high taxation rate, and seen nothing really. On the other hand, I pay minimal taxes in Hong Kong and see great value for money. So I have lost sympathy for India's tax coffers because I don't believe it actually trickles down. I guess if you live in India you have to pay taxes but well, the fines... I'm even more ambivalent.

    2) The book Sacred Games, though fiction, gives a good account of how a police station works. The local station basically gets little or no revenue from the government (ie- your fine doesn't reach them, it's pocketed somewhere way up the chain). The bribe on the other hand gets divided into a pool for the station, a bit for the top honco at that station and a bit for the havaldar. So the bribe is actually going towards governance at the local level while the fine is not. Moreover, the bribe is variable... a rich person pays more than a poor guy. They might even do the poor guys work for free. This might piss the rich guys off but again, there's some kind of logic to it. And they serve as a deterant as much as the fine.

    So in the case of cops, I don't see bribes as I used to. I might still choose to pay the fine because I personally hate haggling. I wouldn't know how to bribe someone. But I not as morally against it as I used to be.

  2. Though from what you described, Hyderabad seems to have thought it through more with the camera and the receipt mailed thing. Though couldn't they have just installed speedometers and cameras instead of make the cops double as photographers? Also, I think it would be more effective to nab and make people pay the fine there and then. They do this in Bombay... if you try to race off, the cop radios the next chowky and you'll have a van on your tail.

  3. huh i never knew that. about the tip-like nature of the bribes. i also dont think its true that nothing happens, my point is that whatever happens is helped.

    of course a lot of this has to do with my general annoyance with desis who seem to think rules are for everyone but them and it makes me quite livid. esp when it severely inconveniences everyone else.

    re the system the whole point of not stopping then and there is 1. cop cant be run over, cos if car is zipping away pray how is cop going to catch? and 2. to avoid the option of bribing to escape fine.

    also, i think cameras are first step to intrnalizing the panopticon - who knows if there IS a camera recording your bad behaviour...sometimes i think of taking photos of men piddling by the road and sending it to paper for a segement, do you know this disgusting man types.

  4. eeee thankee! i never notice when people do things cos im such a readerwhore.