Bengaluru is definitely a city of wonders. Despite its infamous chock-a-block traffic, the Silicon Valley of India somehow manages to sprawl with impunity. Almost every minute, the traffic comes to a standstill at this signal or that junction. But, curiously, the city hardly ever stops. As we probed deeper, we found that the credits go to an almost invisible entity among the citizens.
Meet Bengaluru’s citizen traffic volunteers, who diligently put in hours of arduous efforts to ensure that overflowing roads, ill-planned infrastructure or limitations in public transport do not offer any hindrance to Bengaluru’s growth. And more importantly, they do all the voluntary hard work entirely free!
In dingy alleys choked up with two-wheelers on a Monday morning or an unmanned signal in one of the central junctions of the city, you will find them working assiduously to clear up the path. From Whitefield’s traffic warden Manju Mehra to 64-year-old Ram Prasad B M single-handedly managing traffic at Arekere Gate every day – Bengaluru’s true traffic heroes rarely wear capes.
Traffic Wardens – voluntarily managing the city’s traffic for 30 years
ADGP (Admin.) of Karnataka and the former Traffic Police Commissioner Dr M A Saleem believes, “Police cannot always be omnipresent at all places. Besides, the main duty of traffic police personnel is to ensure road safety. They are no wizards to magically disentangle traffic blockades when other factors like road width and public awareness are not conducive.”
He says that there is an active need to involve citizens in traffic regulation, enforcement and road safety measures. “Cooperation of citizens helps in optimum utilisation of available resources to manage traffic in an efficient and effective manner.”
In his book ‘Traffic Management In Metropolitan Cities’, Dr Saleem details the community participation programmes for traffic management in Bengaluru.
The foremost organisation that deserves a laudable mention is the three-decade-old Traffic Warden Organisation (TWO) with a member strength of nearly 700 at present. Concerned citizens perform voluntary duty as trained traffic wardens, mandatorily dedicating a minimum of 16 precious hours every month in managing the city’s traffic.
Individuals between 18 and 55 years are eligible to join the traffic warden service, irrespective of their gender or professional qualification. Their selfless participation over the years has helped Bengaluru sustain through its jams, roadblocks and increasing traffic load on roads.
Whitefield’s Traffic Superwoman Manju Mehra
“There are too many people behind the scenes who keep Bengaluru moving,” says 46-year-old Manju Mehra, a senior traffic warden at Whitefield. The mother of one has established herself as one of the most dynamic and hard-working traffic volunteers in the entire city. She officially joined the Traffic Warden Organisation (TWO) in 2014 but has been engaged in the work for over a decade.
Around 10 years ago, when Mehra used to drop off her daughter to school, she spotted several students from nearby government schools struggling to cross the road. Some of them even met with accidents owing to the callousness of the drivers. Mehra decided to help these kids cross the road every day after school.
While assisting them to cross the road safely, Mehra discovered her secret talent in efficiently managing traffic and realised how much she enjoyed the activity. That’s when she decided to formally train to be a traffic warden and has been doing incredible work ever since.
Mehra is well-known for her expertise in reuniting lost children with their families, aside from her impeccable traffic control skills. Till date, she has even saved 67 lives on the road through prompt response and timely intervention!
Every day, except Sundays and her daughter’s school holidays, Manju Mehra can be found in the Whitefield area, sometimes schooling unruly drivers about traffic norms or helping prevent a traffic jam. She finishes her household chores daily and heads to the traffic junction, all decked up in the crisp white traffic warden uniform, complete with a navy blue scout hat. Amid the blaring horns, pollution and blazing heat, she diligently does her ‘duty’ for hours daily. However, the best aspect of her work is that she does not take a single penny and does everything entirely out of sheer passion.
While she lauds the various endeavours adopted by senior citizens or school children across the city to prevent traffic congestion, she also believes that the main initiative should come from the drivers themselves.
“I feel the inherent attitude of people on the road needs a drastic change. You abide by traffic rules when you see a policeman, and a few metres later you are back to square one – driving recklessly and creating a nuisance for others. This shouldn’t be the case. Fear of police or penalty should not be your motivation to maintain road discipline. It’s not too difficult to avoid overtaking, breaking signals, honking unnecessarily or blaming the authorities for all the menace,” Mehra asserts her opinion about the leading causes of traffic jams in Bengaluru.
From school students to senior citizens
Aside from TWO, there are other prominent citizen organisations in Bengaluru who directly or indirectly aid in traffic management. Students Association for Road Safety (SARS) is one such, which involves over 30,000 student volunteers from the city schools. They regularly partake in awareness rallies, road safety activities and also volunteer in traffic control from time to time.
The Local Area Traffic Management Committees comprise responsible citizens who resolve traffic woes in their respective areas through discussion and necessary intervention. Each committee comes under the jurisdiction of the local traffic police head.
The highly proactive Resident Welfare Associations in Bengaluru like CIVIC, Swabhimana or Rewabe also devote substantial focus at present on traffic-related issues, owing to the city’s growing traffic inconvenience.
Public-Eye is another successful citizen initiative envisaged by Bengaluru Traffic Police (BTP) to bring more discipline on the city roads. It enables the public to directly report traffic rule violations to the traffic police through on-spot photos or videos.
Arekere’s sexagenarian traffic volunteer
However, it remains an undisputed truth that Bengaluru’s biggest traffic heroes are the citizens acting on individual capacity simply out of love for the city.
It is this feeling of oneness with his city that prompts 64-year-old Ram Prasad BM to wake up early every day and head to Arekere Gate before 6 AM. There he manages the traffic for four hours straight, till the office hour rush starts thinning by 10 AM. He returns again at 5:30 PM and manages the heavy traffic load till 7:30 PM.
For the past five years, the retired finance executive has unfailingly turned up at Arekere Gate, barring only a handful of days when his health did not permit.
When he started out, few people took an old man at a traffic signal seriously. But, over the years, Ram Prasad’s persistence and sincerity have helped him earn immense trust and respect from the daily commuters.
Only recently, he has started donning a neon traffic cop jacket, which compels the commuters to take him more seriously.
A bypass surgery, cataract operation, frequent diabetic bouts and insulin uptake have failed to stop the dedicated traffic volunteer from manning the traffic signal every day while exposing himself to toxic pollution. The time he could have spent in leisurely activities of retired life, Ram Prasad has chosen to devote the same for ensuring the Bengalurean reaches office in time.
Koramangala’s ‘Maharaja Rahul’
At 4:30 PM sharp, Rahul Frances reached the Maharaja signal near Koramangala 4th Block. After briefly exchanging pleasantries with his traffic police chums at the busy crossing, he swiftly leaned out of the sidewalk and signalled at a slew of rushing cars to slow down and let the pedestrians cross.
This is the daily hobby he engages in every day after the hectic office hours. The enthusiastic 35-year-old entrepreneur is a known face to any commuter crossing Maharaja junction on a daily basis.
“I have been doing this since 2015. People now know me as ‘Maharaja Rahul’ more than Rahul Frances because of this signal I work in,” he laughs.
For a long time, Rahul would see the junction get extremely congested every evening. Once in a while, a cop would be delegated to come and manage the traffic.
“I felt this was nowhere near enough to handle the traffic load. Learning that the Koramangala traffic police depot was short-staffed at the moment, I decided to step up and volunteer.”
Following a few days of basic training, Rahul started out as a traffic volunteer. His traffic management skills have only improved over the years. Now he stands as an inspiration for other conscious citizens, who have started following his footsteps and managing traffic in their area.
Inside Bengaluru’s red wounds on Google Maps, these incredible citizens stand out as the much-necessary first aid!
Also Read: “Will Bengaluru’s Traffic Wreck My Career?”
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)