Most have hailed the move as one directed to bring about social equality in the society.
Beginning from May 1st, the VVIP system in the country has come to an end. The privilege of red beacons, more popularly known as the “laal batti” culture, has been dispensed with one stroke by a Cabinet decision of the NDA Government. Not even the President of India, Prime Minister or Chief Justice of India will have red beacons atop their vehicles anymore. The red light with a flasher, which signified a VVIP, was not just the showcase of high and mighty; it was a brazen display of power and authority, now considered unbecoming of a modern democracy. Its end signifies a new era with a sense of social justice.
The beacon service was introduced during the British Raj. After Independence, it was continued by the Congress Government and was never interrupted till date. On 19th April, 2017, the NDA Government banned the service but ambulances and emergency service vehicles of the fire service, police, and army will be allowed to use the blue beacons with flashers to get quick access through the traffic.
Beacons are of six categories though the red light was reserved only for “high dignitaries”. The most used beacons are red, yellow and blue. But it s the red, or the coveted “laal batti”, that drew the maximum attention as an elitist VIP symbol since the British introduced it. The other two were used post-Independence for service purpose.
The ban on the “laal batti” culture is being hailed as historic and has also drawn sharp reactions across the state. BJP leader Lekhashree Samantasinghar describes it as an initiative to bring social equality. “It was a culture driven by Congress Government to show off their status but it created an elitist class system which should not be there because all are equal in the society,” she says.
The public reaction also has been overwhelming. A cook of a local restaurant at Kharavela Nagar terms it as a very public-friendly decision. “Use of red beacon created a class system and made the public feel inferior. By doing away with this system, Government has heralded the way of a just society,” he says.
Not everyone agrees though. Bibhuti Bhushan Harichandan, a retired government employee who lives in Kalinga Nagar area of the city feels the ban would not have any effect as being projected. “The use of red beacon should be there for dignitaries because it was not just a status symbol, it was meant for the security of the public representatives and created a sense of alert,” he points out saying, the big step would have neutral effect on the society as it had nothing to do with the public.
Most political party leaders, however, are appreciating the move. Odisha PCC president Prashad Harichandan says, “It is a good step for the society. The ban would somehow reduce the gap between the general public and people holding high posts. But this alone cannot bring reforms as there are still more issues which need to be addressed.”
BJD leader and Energy Minister Pranab Das welcomes the step as “a good initiative to bring change among the mindset of the general public and reduce the gap between beacon users and the common people.”
His fellow partyman and senior BJD leader Damodar Rout, however, has a different view on this. He says the Flag Code decided who all can use the red beacon and it was implemented for certain reasons too. “Red beacon does not create any VIP culture; rather it was created for traffic issues and for security purposes. Public representatives were allowed to use it on duty, not during personal works. It was made for public benefit,” he says. Rout feels that the ban would have no positive social impact but there could be counter effects.
On the contrary, Special DG Crime Bijaya Kumar Sharma says the move will bring social equality. “For services like ambulance and police, beacons come to help because it is for public service but for other reasons, it is not required.” Police Commissioner of Bhubaneswar-Cuttack, Yogesh Bahadur Khurania, also terms it a good initiative for the society. “Now since it has come to effect, the real impact of the decision can gradually be assessed,” he sums up.