Red beacon can only be used by high dignitaries holding constitutional posts while on duty, the Supreme Court ruled today to put an end to its misuse by politicians and bureaucrats flaunting it as a status symbol, saying it is reflective of the "Raj mentality".
The apex court also banned private individuals from using siren in their vehicles and directed the authorities to take punitive action against those doing so.
A bench of justices G S Singhvi and C Nagappan said men in uniform, those engaged in emergency duties such as ambulance and fire services, emergency maintenance and police vehicles used as escorts or pilots or for law and order duties will be entitled to use blue, white, multicolored lights instead of red beacon.
It said that there has been "abysmal" failure of the authorities to check misuse of red beacons.
"A large number of persons are using red lights on their vehicles for committing crimes in different parts of the country and they do so with impunity because the police officials are mostly scared of checking vehicles with red lights, what to say of imposing fine or penalty," it said.
It also pulled up the authorities for their failure to prevent misuse of siren for the last 24 years.
"The contemptuous disregard to the prohibition by people in power, holders of public offices, civil servants and even ordinary citizens is again reflective of Raj Mentality and is antithesis of the concept of a Republic," the bench said.
According to rules, siren is allowed only in vehicles used as ambulances or for fire fighting or salvage purposes or vehicles used by police officers or operators of construction equipment vehicles or officers of the Motor Vehicles Department in the course of their duty.
The apex court had earlier expressed its displeasure over the rampant misuse of red beacon, saying stringent norms are required to drastically reduce the number of those given this facility.
The apex court said the red lights symbolize power and there is a stark differentiation between those who are allowed to use it and the ones who are not.
It also restrained the Centre and state governments from enlarging the scope of the term 'high dignitaries' beyond what is prescribed in notifications issued by Centre in 2002 and 2005.
This includes President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Cabinet Ministers, Governors, Chief Minister besides Chiefs of three Defence services.
"A large number of those using vehicles with red lights have no respect for the laws of the country and they treat the ordinary citizens with contempt. The use of red lights on the vehicles of public representatives and civil servants has perhaps no parallel in the world democracies," the bench said.
"The best political and executive practices have been distorted to such an extent that they do not even look like distant cousins of their original forms. The best example of this is the use of symbols of authority including the red lights on the vehicles of public representatives from the lowest to the highest and civil servants of various cadres," it said.
The bench, however, refused to do away with the use of red beacon by the dignitaries after the Centre strongly defended it on the ground that there is no illegality as it facilitates public representatives and civil servants in their movements while on duty.
"The motor vehicles carrying high dignitaries specified by the Central Government and their counterparts specified by the State Government may be fitted with red lights but the red lights with or without flasher can be used only while the specified high dignitary is on duty and not otherwise," it said.
The bench said that amendment be passed in Motor Vehicles Act for for imposition of adequate penalty on misuse of red beacon.
"No motor vehicles except those specified in Rule 119(3) of the 1989 Rules or similar provisions contained in the rules framed by the State Governments or the Administration of Union Territories shall be fitted with multi-toned horns giving a succession of different notes or with any other sound producing device giving an unduly harsh, shrill, loud or alarming noise," the bench said.
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