Over 500 people riding two-wheelers without wearing a helmet have died on city roads in the past three years. The rising number of fatal accidents involving helmetless riders has, however, failed to move leaders of various political parties who are opposing tooth and nail the drive launched by the traffic police to make helmets mandatory.
In 2005 too, political leaders and residents’ groups had joined hands to oppose the “mandatory helmet rule” imposed by the city police and had managed to bring it to a halt.
The leaders, including city mayor, deputy mayor, all BJP MLAs and the party’s city unit chief, have come out in protest against the helmet norm, calling it a “counterproductive” move that will encroach upon the liberty of people.
On Sunday, leaders of various political parties, MLAs and activists, besides residents, staged a protest at Mahatma Phule Mandai under an apolitical banner named “Action Committee Against Helmet Compulsion”.
Suryakant Pathak, president of the group, said opposition to the move stemmed from the fact that “such a move is not only impractical but there’s no evidence that such a compulsion brings down the number of accidents”.
“Since early last week, the traffic police have started imposing penalty of Rs 100 on bike riders for not wearing helmets. As per our information, the traffic department has fined around 12,000 riders.
What we cannot understand is why the police department is bent on implementing the compulsion when it’s known that it doesn’t work. Neither can it be sustained nor does it result in any conspicuous fall in the number of accidental deaths,” said Pathak, adding that Mayor Dattatray Dhankavade, Deputy Mayor Aba Bagul, all eight BJP MLAs from the city, NCP district president Ankush Kakade, MNS city chief and the Congress city chief had declared their support to the protest.
Nearly 100 protesters gathered at the Mahatma Phule Mandai and shouted slogans against the Pune Police for trying to implement the rule, which, they said, curtailed their basic rights and would only help the companies manufacturing helmets.
Iqbal Shaikh, working president of the group, said they would become more aggressive if the police did not call off the move by Wednesday.
“Imposition of this rule, collection of penalty from bike riders and hoping that this will reduce the accidental deaths is nothing but stupidity on part of the police. What they should see that this rule has not worked anywhere. The United States of America was forced to revoke the rule from 14 states after it found that it in no way contributed towards making the roads safer. In Delhi, statistics show that the number of accidental deaths had actually increased when the helmet compulsion was imposed,” he said.
Newly-elected BJP MLA from Kothrud Medha Kulkarni has even raised the issue with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. “He (the CM) has promised to speak to the director general of police and resolve the matter,” she said.
Kulkarni added: “We believe that helmet compulsion is an unjust rule and needs a rethink. Hence, I called up the chief minister and requested him to direct the Pune police to revoke the compulsion. He has promised me that he will discuss the subject with the DGP and take appropriate action. I am hoping that the compulsion will be gone soon.”
Not all road users, however, approve of the protest.
Civic activist Shridhar Chalkha said: “Politicians do not speak for people. They want an issue to come into the limelight. But they do not realise that helmets are meant to save lives. It is not about saving one life, actually you save the entire family. In several of the cases, we have seen the head of the family has lost life leaving the family in penury.”
The police should go by norms that make helmets compulsory, irrespective of politicians’ support or opposition, said another activist D G Baliga.