By B. Anton Jeyanathan The police service has been severely criticized on a regular basis for the omissions and commissions of senior and junior officers. With the budget proposal the insinuations and the mudslinging, mostly against traffic policemen, have been uncharitable. It has been claimed in newspaper articles, cartoons and interviews with members of the [...]

Sunday Times 2

Cops on the “chopping block”


By B. Anton Jeyanathan
The police service has been severely criticized on a regular basis for the omissions and commissions of senior and junior officers. With the budget proposal the insinuations and the mudslinging, mostly against traffic policemen, have been uncharitable. It has been claimed in newspaper articles, cartoons and interviews with members of the public, that the amount of bribes to be given to policemen will have to be more because of the increase in traffic fines.

I do not for a moment claim that no criticism should be made against policemen. Policemen are also human beings and like in all other organizations and societies there are the good and the bad. Let us accept that the percentage of the good in any society, any organization and the police, outnumber the percentage of the bad. It is the policeman who is the panacea of all ills of society be it family or land disputes, abductions, elopements, barking of neighbours’ dogs, traffic jams and what not, faced by society; all conceivable criminal offences which are reported to the police and which the public expect them to solve. It is the policeman who is at the center of everything and every problem society is confronted with from birth to death,

Bribery is not confined only to policemen. Unfortunately, because of direct interaction with members of the public, the policeman is seen by the public as the only one who takes bribes in the entire country. I am not trying to be the “devil’s advocate” to whitewash or exonerate the policeman of his act of accepting bribes in different forms, mostly by way of accepting cash. I do not condone bribery amongst policemen but condemn it unreservedly. However, I would like the members of the public to look around at practically every government department, especially those departments which are responsible for earning revenue for the government – let it be the Immigration Department, National Identity Card Department, Registrar of Motor Vehicles Department, Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, the Customs Department, the Land Registry, hospitals, court houses, I can go on and on about the departments where there is rampant bribery and corruption. We are aware of the recent detection made by the Bribery Department where it was alleged that millions of rupees were accepted by officers of a revenue earning department to clear containers. Let there be no misunderstanding that I am not advocating that the Police Department too should be corrupt like the other departments, but severe punishment should be meted out to those detected accepting bribes.

Who corrupts?
It is we citizens who corrupt the police in order to escape or prevent a police officer from taking legal action against us for offences committed by us against the laws of the land. It is we who corrupt and then howl that policemen are bribe takers. We too are equally guilty for offering bribes to policemen.
I would like to quote from the Bribery Act of 31 December 1985 Sect.19.

Section 19 (a) describes this law thus:
“ A person who offers any gratification to a public servant as an inducement or a reward for that public servant’s performing or abstaining from performing any official act, or expediting, delaying, hindering or preventing the performance of any official act whether by that public servant or by any other public servant, or assisting, favouring, hindering or delaying any person in the transaction of any business with the Government, shall be guilty of an offence punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term of not more than seven years and a fine not exceeding five thousand rupees.”

Recently with the increase of fines for traffic offences some citizens and some press items, cartoons etc., have made degrading remarks about the police claiming that the bribes to be given to police officers will be more than before. We are all paragons of virtue, and police officers are devils incarnate.

The so called gentlemen drivers dislike being stopped by a policeman and they never admit their faults but drop the name of a high ranking police officer or politician to intimidate the policeman who stopped them, to get out of the awkward situation. Recently it was reported that the wife of a politician had been stopped by a policeman and had abused the policeman for stopping her vehicle where she was only a passenger and the policeman had to release her and the vehicle without taking any action against the driver. In this case I blame the policeman for having let the driver go free and for releasing the vehicle without charging the driver for the offence he had committed.

The other category of drivers are those who are prepared with the necessary amount of money in their driving licence book and are ready to hand over the licence book with the money to escape Court action. Are they not guilty of offering a bribe having violated the traffic rules? If you violate the traffic rules you should not try to get away by bribing the police, but should face the court and accept whatever punishment meted. On one side you offer a bribe to escape the court case and then blame the policeman for accepting the bribe for you to escape the court case. Why shouldn’t all the drivers resolve not to violate the traffic rules such as overtaking on the left and right, speeding, driving under the influence of liquor, driving without a licence, etc., without resorting to bribing the police?

Travails of a traffic cop
I wonder whether the so called gentlemen drivers and those who make allegations against the police, especially against traffic cops, are aware that every policeman on duty at every traffic light junction, every intersection both in the city and suburbs, especially in Colombo city, Battaramulla, Mount Lavinia and the Kelaniya area, perform on an average more than 12 hours duty at a time. They have to get up in the early hours of the morning and be at their posts by 6 am or 7 am directing traffic using both arms and blowing the whistle which is eternally in their mouths. May I ask the drivers and those who criticize the police to go to a corner in their gardens and pretend that they are doing traffic duty, using both arms for 15 minutes or so continuously, and see how they feel. The traffic cop is at his point of duty in the sun and rain, inhaling all the environmental pollution, tolerating verbal abuse by drivers, and violators of traffic laws. They continue their duties for a period of more than eight hours in these conditions. It is reliably learned that most of the traffic cops have indicated to their superiors that they would like to be transferred out of the Traffic Branch as they find it difficult to continue for such long hours for months and months, and also face health hazards. Now I find that the Police Department has supplied masks to prevent inhalation of polluted air etc., which is commendable.

I recollect a single elderly traffic sergeant in his pair of shorts and tunic controlling traffic at Bristol Street, Fort, in the year 1960 or so. He used to walk from the clock tower junction up to Bristol Street, York Street and go around controlling traffic and I cannot recollect any traffic jam. I agree that in the period of 1960 the traffic congestion in the entire country was less than today. I must also mention that most of the corporate firms who had their establishments along these streets used to send hampers to him during the festive season as an act of gratitude, and not as a bribe, for ensuring the free flow of vehicles in those areas.

The Police Department is not the only department that should be blamed for the traffic mess and congestion in the city and suburbs. The government should take cognizance of the large volume of vehicles being imported into this country by various importers of motor vehicles both new and second hand. Does our country need so many vehicles? Have a look at the number of trishaws which clog the city plying to and fro violating all traffic rules. The government has to seriously consider curtailing the import of vehicles, cars, trishaws and motor cycles. The government should also consider implementing a plan restricting the number of vehicles coming into the city on working days by devising a method of restricting motor vehicles with certain numbers entering the city on restricted days, and curtailing the entry of trishaws to the city limits especially during the day. In bygone days policemen planned out their duties and deployed more men during “peak hours” in the morning and in the evening, but alas the police cannot deploy more men as the entire 24 hours have become “peak hours” today. Besides the government, there are other stakeholders like the Road Development Authority (RDA), municipality, Transport Ministry, traffic engineers etc., who have to take the blame for the mess and the traffic congestion in the city.

Flyovers are being built haphazardly just to overcome congestion at a particular junction or point. The government must review these projects and have flyovers built on longer stretches of road so that the traffic flow will be smoother from one point leading towards the city.

Mega police
The government has established a ministry to build a mega city in the city of Colombo. It is hoped that whatever plans they have, priority should be given to build more flyovers so that the traffic congestion in the city will not cause frustration amongst the drivers and travelers who are at times caught up in traffic jams without any movement for more than half an hour or so thereby increasing the anger and blood pressure of drivers and travelers.

Look sympathetically at the traffic policeman when you drive around the city and watch him moving like a robot waving his arms and blowing the whistle, and you will see the same face in the morning as well as in the evening. Do not offer bribes to a police officer if you are detected for any traffic offence. Accept your guilt and accept the fine the officer imposes or go to courts and settle the matter there. Cheer him up with a smile in appreciation of his hazardous duties, whenever you pass a traffic cop.

Policemen too are human beings; they have their own problems, families, aspirations and limited stamina and patience. The majority of policemen are from villages and may even be your kith and kin. I like to repeat a famous ballad by the late M.S. Fernando who was known as the baila chakravarthi – and praised the policeman for his unstinted service to members of the public. “Ralahamy mang Policiya, Ralahamy mang. Saamaya araksha karana niladhariya mang. Vahana anathuru baluwama apamanai. Evata hethuwa nosalakilla thamai. Mahamaga yana ena aeyin obata karadarai. Obey arakshavata sitinne mama thamai.” Just to touch on the traffic, he says ‘The rate of traffic accidents is enormous. The reason for this is negligence”. This ballad was sung about 40 years ago or so. Just imagine what he would have sung if he had seen the traffic mess at present.

Do not drink and drive, do not violate the traffic laws.
(B.Anton Jeyanathan is a retired Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police.)

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