Siren cull: India bans red beacon lights from top of VIP cars

Michael Safi
An Indian politician’s car with a red beacon on it outside Parliament House in New Delhi. Momentum for a ban had been steadily growing. Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

Indians idling in the country’s notoriously congested traffic have long resented the sight of red flashing lights on the roof of cars zooming up behind them: the sign a public official is approaching and needs other drivers to let them pass.

Soon, officials including government ministers and judges will need to battle the traffic like everybody else.

The Narendra Modi government announced on Wednesday that from next month only emergency services will be permitted to use sirens to cut through busy roads.

“We are removing the rule which allows state and central government to specify who can use the red lights,” the Indian finance minister, Arun Jaitley, said at a news conference in Delhi.

“From 1 May, no vehicle will have a red light. There will be no exceptions.”

The red beacons have become a lightning rod for public disgust at official corruption and the “VVIP culture” of the country’s elites. In 2013 India’s supreme court described the misuse of the beacons as “a menace to society” and said they had become “a fashion and status symbol”.

Such was the beacons’ power that some criminals had been known to fix them to their cars to evade detection, knowing police officers would be reluctant to stop a vehicle that was flashing red, the court said.

“It’s a huge democratic decision,” the national road transport minister, Nitin Gadkari, said.

Momentum for a ban has been steadily growing, starting with Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, who announced in 2015 that neither he nor his ministers used the beacons.

In the past months the newly elected chief ministers of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh banned the beacons for state officials.



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