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Situation in hand

Four years ago Bangalore's traffic police got mobile devices to record traffic violations electronically. The system works - and now it is spreading

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Get caught by a traffic policeman in Bangalore and you won’t find him laboriously entering the details into a notebook. Instead he will whip out his , make a few entries, and give you a printed receipt. The receipt will have details of earlier times that you have been hauled up.

Bangaloreans are now used to their high-tech traffic policemen, who have used handhelds since 2008. So effectively that, early last week, the initiative was extended to the entire state, making Karnataka’s traffic police the first among all the states to go paperless. The trigger was citizens’ complaints about traffic policemen, a few of whom printed their own notebooks and pocketed the penalties.

, Additional Director General of Police, computer wing, and commissioner for traffic and road safety, led the initiative. “We have been talking about harsher penalties for repeat offenders and stricter enforcement of the law, but if you continue with a paper-based system, how will you even identify repeat offenders?” he asks. Sood, a graduate of IIT-Delhi and IIM-Bangalore, realised that harnessing information technology was the best way.

Now, when a BlackBerry-equipped officer stops an offender, he enters details like vehicle and driving licence number, nature of offence and location. The penalty amount is generated immediately, as well as details of past offences committed, if any. Everything is in real time, and data is stored in a central database. The motorist, says Sood, knows that he is being charged the right amount and that it is going to the state coffers.

The drive was launched in 2008, when the devices were distributed to 280 officers of the rank of sub-inspector and above, at an investment of Rs 3 crore and an annual recurring cost of Rs 30-40 lakh. It has proved a bargain. Penalties from violations jumped from Rs 19 crore in 2007 to Rs 29 crore in 2008 and Rs 51 crore in 2011. This year, Rs 19 crore has been collected.

The enhanced collections, the commissioner says, are not because have increased, or due to better policing, but are a sign that leakage is being plugged. The increased collections also mean bigger budgetary allocation: Sood says that Karnataka’s traffic police are better funded than any of their peers.

But despite effective monitoring and surveillance — Bangalore has 188 for traffic, the most of any Indian city — reducing the number of offences is a different ballgame. For this, Sood says, 100 per cent of violations would need to be caught and penalised. The 10,000 cases registered daily are just the tip of the iceberg, he says, perhaps 5 per cent of actual violations. The commonest offences are not wearing a seat belt, driving while drunk, jumping a red light, and driving while on the cellphone.

The transition to the new tech-nology was not without hiccups. “Initially, officers were scared that they would press the wrong button,” says Circle Inspector Rangaswamy. “But these days even constables have the confidence to use the device because it is like a mobile phone.” He calls the initiative a “100 per cent success”. “People have faith in the BlackBerry. It has made the whole system more transparent,” he says.

In the current expansion, since June 11 another 250 devices have been distributed in Karnataka, to officers of assistant sub-inspector rank and above (junior officers like constables cannot collect fines). A total of 750 devices are now deployed. Officers from other districts have been trained, and city officers will help local forces iron out the wrinkles.

Reports have surfaced that, though the devices have been distributed, in some places officers are yet to begin using them. Sood denies this: “We have already started getting data from the other centres.”

Other metros are now paying attention. Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad are in touch with Bangalore’s traffic police, and some have done pilots. Sood’s focus, for now, is on extending the drive smoothly to other districts. It can use any handheld, he says, not necessarily the BlackBerry. “This is all the more important in areas where there is less supervision. With this stage, we can now monitor the whole state.”

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