The Supreme Court came down heavy on rampant use of beacons by those in power while directing authorities to ensure that even those holding constitutional positions used them on vehicles only while on duty.
A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and C Nagappan also banned use of multi-toned horns. “The use of red lights on the vehicles of public representatives and civil servants has perhaps no parallel in the world democracies,” Justice Singhvi said. Saying that single-toned horns and sirens can only be used on emergency vehicles, the court said ambulances and police vehicles cannot use red, but lights of other colours on their beacons.
“If the instinct of power is concentrated in few individuals then naked greed for power will destroy the basics of democratic principles. But what we have done in the last four decades would shock the most established political systems. The best political and executive practices have been distorted to such an extent that they do not even look like distant cousins of their original forms,” the bench said. “The best example of this is the use of symbols of authority…. Red lights symbolise power and a stark differentiation between those who are allowed to use it and the ones who are not. A large number of those using vehicles with red lights have no respect for the laws and treat ordinary citizens with contempt,” it added. SC directed that vehicles ferrying “high dignitaries” specified by the central and state governments may be fitted with red beacons but these can be used with or without flasher only when the dignitary is on duty. State governments and Union territories cannot enlarge the scope of the term “high dignitaries” beyond what is prescribed in central notifications of January 11, 2002 and July 28, 2005, the court said. States must prune their lists to these notifications within three months, said Justice Singhvi who will demit office today. The court also expressed hope that the legislature will make appropriate amendments providing for imposition of adequate penalty for misuse of red beacons and multi-toned horns.