red beacon

The government decided to ban red beacons atop cars of all ministers, politicians and bureaucrats, ending a privilege that was seen as the ultimate status symbol. The ban, effective from May 1, does not exempt even vehicles of the country’s top dignitaries such as the President, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India.

But ambulances and vehicles of the fire service, police, and army will be allowed to use blue flashing beacons to cut through traffic. About six categories of beacons – primarily red, blue and yellow are in use in India. But the red, or the coveted “lal batti”, has been drawing maximum attention as an elitist VIP symbol, since the British rulers introduced it.

Road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari called the decision historic, and tweeted: “Usage of red beacon tied us back to colonial legacy. With the lal batti removal, PM Narendra Modi’s vision of new India took a step forward.” The decision was taken at a meeting of road transport officials with the Prime Minister’s office yesterday.

“We have decided to remove the clause from the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, that gave the Centre and states the power to decide who should be allowed to display red beacons. The road ministry will shortly notify the amended rules,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.

The Centre’s move follows decisions by the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab Chief Ministers, Yogi Adityanath and Captain Amarinder Singh, to discard beacons from official cars in their states. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal took the lead in 2015 by asserting he would not have the red beacon on his car. Union Ministers such as M Venkaiah Naidu and junior home minister Kiren Rijiju have never used one since they joined the Modi’s council in 2014. Gadkari and Jitendra Singh, junior minister in the prime minister’s office, removed theirs after the announcement.

The opposition Congress welcomed the step, but took a swipe at the BJP, saying it was good to see the ruling party catch up with the progressive policies of the previous government. The top court called beacons atop cars of ministers and bureaucrats “ridiculous and synonymous with power”, and said these should be removed immediately.

The Road Ministry had proposed limiting the privilege to five constitutional authorities – the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, and Speaker of the Lok Sabha, which was not approved. According to the government, vehicles with beacon lights have no place in a democratic country.

People often saw these flashing lights as shining examples of power and VIP status, more than security aids. Even lower-level politicians and officials misuse the beacons to show off their importance, especially in smaller towns.