On a bright Friday afternoon when office goers on Outer Ring Road - the Bellandur-Marathahalli stretch that houses many IT firms, are wrapping up work and planning their weekend, a young man in his early 30s clad in a crisp white shirt and khakhi trousers arrives at the Varthur traffic signal to man the traffic.
His duty starts at 2 pm sharp and would go on till 10. Fridays are heavy traffic days, specially on the Outer Ring Road which is infamous for its endless traffic jams. But he is all prepared for his day’s work. He knows how miserable it’s going to be for the next eight hours as he stands at the junction, inhaling polluted air swooshing out of the sea of vehicles.
Meet Jagadeesh (name changed), a police constable attached to HSR Layout traffic police station. An arts graduate hailing from Kalburgi, he joined the police service five years ago, as he felt the government job would give him job security unlike the private firm in which he used to work earlier. It indeed gave him the job security that he was looking for, but then along came the pitfalls.
Life of a busy bee
Jagadeesh works in two shifts — from 6.30 am to 2 pm and from 2 pm to 10 pm. There are no fixed days for the shift— it keeps changing frequently and sometimes even on daily basis. On the days when his work begins at 6.30 am, he wakes up as early as at 4 am. He has to travel to the station (for more than 25 kms) by bus all the way from Kengeri, where he lives in a rented house with his homemaker wife, grandmother and two children. Once he reaches the station, he is assigned the location to man on that day.
Thus begins the circus of handling traffic situation on the ever-busy ORR. As many as 35 constables are posted to man the traffic in an area covering 15 km under HSR Layout Police Station, which is too small a number. The result - constables like Jagadeesh struggle to get their weekly offs, let alone leaves.
Understaffed department has little scope for week-offs
Statistics from the Bengaluru Traffic Police show the shortage of traffic police in the city. Of the total sanctioned posts of traffic police constables (2,058), 303 posts are vacant. The vacancy in the grade of head constables is 19 as against the sanctioned posts of 867. Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), R Hitendra says as many as 1,000 police constables are under training and will be posted to fill the vacancies.
In a city like Bengaluru with a population of 84 lakh and 55 lakh vehicles plying on the road everyday, the traffic police ratio is considerably less. Take the example of Mexico city. With a population of 1.74 crore, the city’s traffic police force has a fleet of 30,000, while Bengaluru has less than 3,000 traffic cops.
In a casual conversation with me, Jagadeesh says he could avail just one weekly off per month. “It’s not that our higher officers stop us from taking a weekly off, but with the limited staff in the station how can we even afford to take the day off? Who will manage the show?” he asks.
On the days he takes the weekly off, he would have no time for entertainment, as he would end up finishing all the pending personal works. “We go for shopping once in six months or so, but I don’t remember when was the last time I watched a movie in a theatre. Where is the time?” he says when asked about how he relaxes on the days off-work.
Struggling to make the ends meet
A revision of pay scale would brighten up the lives of constables like Jagadeesh who are lowest rung in the hierarchy. “We work amidst the traffic, irrespective of how painful it is, but I wish we were paid well for the work that we do,” Jagadeesh hopes.
At the 6th year of joining the police force, Jagadeesh’s monthly salary is Rs 20,000. Of this, Rs 5,000 is deducted for the General Provident Fund, pension and insurance. As he lives in a rented house, Rs 4,000 from his salary is paid as rent, Rs 5,000 goes on repaying the loan. So what remains is a meagre Rs 6,000-7,000, a sum on which his family survives.
Why does Jagadeesh, or a lot of other police like him, not live in police quarters, but prefer a rented house? “The condition of old police quarters is extremely bad. I did not want to live in such conditions, hence shifted to a rented house,” he says.
Uniforms and shoes that never reach the cops
Apart from the low salary and unavailability of weekly offs, there are other glaring issues in the police department that bother the constables.
Despite the government releasing funds, new uniforms and shoes do not reach their hands and the constables are forced to spend from their pockets on them every year. “In the last five years of joining the service, a pair of khakhi trousers and two pairs of shoes is all I have received from the department. I have heard that the government releases the funds, but I don’t know where it goes,” Jagadeesh says.
So every year, he spends from his salary to buy and stitch a pair of uniform and few pairs of shoes.
When health is affected
Manning traffic anywhere in a city like Bengaluru would invite health problems too, more so if they are posted on Outer Ring Road. Speaking at a programme recently, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) R Hitendra revealed the magnitude of traffic movement on ORR. He said the total number of vehicles parked in six tech parks on ORR on a working day is more than 4.8 lakh, reflecting the enormous flow of traffic in this stretch.
The traffic pollution coupled with road dust has serious effect on the traffic police. Jagadeesh says while they can’t avoid exposure to vehicular pollution, what could be prevented is their exposure to road dust. “We find it more inconvenient when we have to control the traffic movement in an area where the roads are not asphalted. If the authorities make it a point to asphalt the roads on a regular basis, it would help the traffic police,” he points.
Though Jagadeesh is comparatively new to this job of traffic regulation, the work has already taken a toll on his health. He suffers from cough and breathing problems and often visits his doctor. “I don’t know for how long I will be able to bear with this. I am looking for other job options too and have written a few exams,” he says.
‘Respect us for our work’
Health issues like respiratory problems plague the traffic police even if the latter take precautionary measures such as masks. The department distributes masks to these police, but not all of them wear it. A constable told me that he would prefer not to wear a mask as he finds it difficult to breath with it.
The traffic police are covered under State government’s Arogya Bhagya scheme. However, constables like Jagadeesh don’t opt to avail the benefit for routine check-ups, because they say the process of claiming medical reimbursements is too much of a hassle. “I can’t run around after my working hours, to get the reimbursement done,” he says.
So what is that one change that traffic constables like Jagadeesh would like to see in the system where they work? Jagadeesh says he would expect minimum respect from the higher authorities and from the public. “There are instances where we, the traffic cops are harmed by public when we try to nab the traffic violators. I was thrashed twice in the recent past. Two months ago, I stopped a mini truck that hit a bike. Soon, several other truck drivers ganged up and thrashed me while I was doing my duty. Is this what we get for working in tough conditions? We, the constables don’t even have the power to impose penalty on rule violators. I wish this system changes and we are treated humanely,” he says.
Ask him what is the best part of his profession. After deep thought, he says it’s the work satisfaction he gets at the end of the day as he helps people by easing the traffic.