BSF men are real sentinels guarding India's borders, not these men and women lurking around pretending to wet nurse a serious traffic problem.And, while they do this, the most horrific road accidents will continue to take place on the highways. Drivers will continue to drive at top speed while talking on their mobiles. And the sentinel will continue to prowl around looking for parking violations. So, basically as a tax payer I am underwriting the traffic cop’s salary as well as paying the sent

March 13, 2019

Lionel Messias

Sentinels Save Police Face

Almost two decades ago, if I recollect correctly, Luizinho Faleiro, then a minister (or chief minister, can’t recall that either) said all new buildings would compulsorily have to have underground parking. Obviously, the parking problem then was out of control. It got worse as new bigger buildings were built chock-a-block in urban areas and the suburbs of Panjim, Margao, Vasco and Ponda without a thought for parking or, the fact that a few thousand vehicles were added to the roads each month.

What happened next was that the Corporation of the City of Panjim (CCP) and the government bureaucracy had a eureka moment and turned the parking problem into a money spinner. And voila, the KTC pay parking lot and Patto pay parking income schemes were born.

The CCP coffered up its ever-dwindling revenue with its own pay parking schemes. Vehicles parking in nearly 18 designated spots including the perennially congested 18th June Road were levied parking fees sometime in 2016. But, like most of its schemes, this one too blew up in its face, after it turned out that the Margao-based Straight Deal Services wasn’t so straight after all. A year later the scheme failed and the CCP claimed Straight Deal owed it Rs 24,75,000.

The government’s loss-making Economic Development Corporation tendered the Patto Plaza for a huge Rs 1,75,000 per month which parking scheme will end on March 31, 2019.

Next, a South-based politician with a penchant for making money off the books decided Panjim needed a multi-level car park. So, one was built in 2016 at a cost of Rs 35 crore (which escalated later like always) with an area of 2,586 sq mts to park 465 cars. It turned out that this latest ‘infrastructure’ (the media’s and politician’s favourite war whoop) was meant purely for tourists taking the many Mandovi cruises and also at the urging of the powerful casino lobby.

Goa Virtually On Wheels

Meanwhile, what happened was that both buildings and vehicles boomed exponentially. Against 6,23,229 public and private vehicles in 2007-08, the numbers surged to 14, 35,278 in May 2018.

Desperate, the Goa Police introduced the sentinel scheme instead of kicking their personnel up their pants. It backfired on them despite what the Times of India would like to tell you. Why? Simply because it proved to be an easy source of additional income to the so-called sentinels who couldn’t give a hoot if ten people died on the roads on a daily basis. What the sentinels did was take time off from work, drive around in their bikes/cars, probably parking illegally themselves; and began to take pictures of any two-wheeler or car parked illegally or, as it happened in Ponda on a regular basis capture on their mobiles riders, without helmets driving within the town.

All the while the Times of India (and the Herald to an extent) engaged itself with convincing you that the helmet had life-saving powers. Never mind the biker’s Mach 1 speed or machismo. None of this matters to the Goa police provided you just don a helmet no matter how crappy it is. I have personally seen a sentinel photographing a rental bike parked outside the popular building next to the Panjim KTC bus stand, a venue where a sentinel or a group of sentinels could become millionaires in double quick time, if they only set up camp there.

And, while they do this, the most horrific road accidents will continue to take place on the highways, including scary near misses. Drivers will continue to drive at top speed while simultaneously talking on their mobiles. School-going kids will continue to scooter down to school, often three on a scooter. And the sentinel will continue to prowl around looking for parking violations pretending to be concerned.

Sentinels Or Mercenaries?

Because lucrative business it definitely is. On February 27, 2019 the government sanctioned Rs 25,89,000 to pay 86 traffic sentinels. Approval was also given for Rs 11,92,000 to pay 47 sentinels that was owed to them. Up to October 2018, over Rs 40,00,00 was paid to our heroes, with one sentinel earning a whopping Rs 8,60,000. So, basically as a tax payer I am underwriting the traffic cop’s salary as well as paying the sentinel for doing the cop’s job!

So, did the Goa police think this through? You bet, they didn’t. They never do. I am even offended by the name ‘Sentinel’ because that word is synonymous with the Border Security Force that guards both our borders. North and East. These BSF men are real sentinels, not these men and women lurking around pretending to wet nurse a serious traffic problem.

Elsewhere, the road is clear (pun intended): a driver is free to drive at breakneck speed on the highways; the only risk he takes is when the police occasionally deploy their four speed radar guns; drink and drive except when the police occasionally use their newly acquired alcometers. And the Times of India will continue to publish the police handouts showing that a few hundred offenders have been booked, in which month etc.

So, do these sentinels really have ethics or, are they just mercenaries? Are they themselves above board? I seriously doubt it. Would a sentinel report a family member, relative or friend to the police? No way. Has one sentinel reported another’s wrongdoing? Possibly, but the police wouldn’t tell us.

The traffic police will continue to shelter under their favourite tree in their favoured spot, the most popular place (in South Goa where I live) being that huge shady tree outside the Town & Country Planning Minister Vijay Sardesai’s house. In this case, two regular policemen and a home-guard.

Notwithstanding the radar gun’s limited deployment, nothing the Goa’s traffic police have done in recent years is worth a para even in print. I am yet to see the police at the Nagoa traffic circle to prevent cars, 10-wheeler inter-state buses, 10-wheeler trucks (from the Verna industrial estate) and various other vehicles hurtling downhill from Verna. Never once. But on the night of September 11, 2018, I saw a large police posse in the inside lane to the airport (yes, inside) fining drivers for all sorts of offences (DUI included) including one shocking case of driving without a seat belt (remember, the inside lane, not the highway), after the female officer condoned the driver for driving his vehicle with medium black-tinted windows!