In a matter of two hours, a two-wheeler towing van from the traffic police department picked up nearly 30 vehicles crammed into no-parking zones in and around Laxmi Road on a rather lean Thursday, far belying the traffic police’s sorry claim of just 20 in an entire day.
Soon after a Right to Information (RTI) application prodded the traffic department into disclosing its daily towings — the costs involved and the earnings from fines imposed — a Mirror team went on a two-hour drive to check how many vehicles are actually being picked up by a towing van, which works on a contract basis. The survey busted quite a few of the myths the traffic police spun.
For instance, fines were being merrily collected by the contractors operating the vans, who were clearly not part of the traffic divisions and hence not authorised to collect any fine from commuters whatsoever.
“There is a huge nexus between the traffic police and the van operators. The police records show fines collected for only 20 vehicles per van per day. The rest of the amount which the operators amass from commuters does not go into the police revenue kitty, but into their own pockets and those of some traffic police personnel,” disclosed activist Azhar Khan, head of NGO Lokhit Foundation, who had filed the RTI with the Pune traffic police in September, seeking information about how many vehicles are picked up by each van.
In its reply to Khan’s query, the traffic department gave a break-up of the action taken by towing vans, claiming that every van picks up 20 vehicles in the whole day. The van operator gets Rs 50 for every two-wheeler, which adds up to a daily income of Rs 1,000 for each van operator. In the same reply, the traffic police also gave a break-up of the expenses incurred by the van operator, insisting that it was far more than the income. “The traffic police stated that the operators pay salaries to four assistants he employs and, taking into account the van maintenance and diesel expenses, the total expenditure goes up to Rs 2,400. This meant that every van operator was incurring a loss of Rs 1,400 per day. But, it’s difficult to believe that all the van operators are continuing to provide the service, despite incurring losses of Rs 42,000 per month,” Khan contended.
The Mirror team tailed a tempo attached to the Faraskhana traffic division in the afternoon and saw it picking up nearly 30 two-wheelers in the area around Laxmi Road in two hours flat, contradictory to the figures given by the traffic police. When one of the traffic constables was contacted, he let slip the actual figures on the condition of anonymity, saying, “In one round, we pick up six vehicles. And, we take at least six such rounds on a lean day like Thursday. We pick up around 60 vehicles in a day.” This was three times the numbers recorded by the traffic cops.
What’s worse, the employees of the van operator, whose job is only to pick up vehicles and bring them to the traffic division’s office, were seen collecting fines from the commuters. On Mirror’s queries, another traffic constable tried to justify the act. “We are facing a shortage of manpower. So, the pick-up van boys collect the fine money sometimes; but it is only the traffic police which issues the challan,” he maintained.
But Khan clearly spelt out the rules, saying, “Only the traffic police in uniform are allowed to collect the fine. They should also provide and additional receipt of Rs 50 as towing charges. However, most of the time, they do not bother with any such receipt. And that is on the rare instances when they actually collect the fines themselves. It’s mostly the towing van operators who gather the money.”
Deputy commissioner of police (Traffic) Pravin Munde gave Mirror the usual reply when apprised of the situation. “There are clear orders that no other person except police officials should be collecting fines and giving receipts. If persons other than police are collecting fines, I will conduct an inquiry and those found guilty will be punished.”
Till then, between themselves, traffic cops and van operators, have a fair amount of money in tow.