, , , , , , , ,

Hello! Share your experiences, please.

A policeman stopped me at a traffic signal just as it turned green. He stood right in front of the car and directed me to the far left by the footpath. I knew I was in trouble and pulled over apprehensively. He thrust his swarthy face through the window and demanded to see the pollution check certificate. Bummer! I knew I had not got it renewed and had been meaning to get it done for some time. I rummaged through the chaos in the glove box and came up with a certificate. ‘This one is expired,’ remarked the policeman drily and asked me to pay the fine. I pleaded with him to let me go, but he stubbornly refused. ‘You know the rules,’ he was saying. ‘You have not got it checked in three months. That is a serious offense.’ I lied about overwork and pleaded some more. The policeman was not convinced and kept shaking his head. Then he asked me to settle it fast, he had a traffic to control, or else pay the fine – it was six times more than the cost of a pollution check. I ‘settled’ for the cost of the certificate, but he wasn’t interested. He wanted me to double it. I was horrified and showed it, but he couldn’t care less. ‘Pay the fine, Sir,’ he said politely. I figured that after ‘settlement’ and the renewal of the certificate, it would still be half the fine. I agreed and shelled out hard cash. I bled in my heart, fumed at myself for postponing the inevitable and cursed the ‘robber’ of a cop who could have easily directed me to a checkup point that was right across the road!
I made a U-turn and headed toward the pollution check point, a stone’s throw from where the unscrupulous and greedy cop robbed me. The chap at the roadside checkpoint asked for the year of manufacture and went about performing the computerized test. After a while, out came the details on the computer monitor. He keyed in some details and printed it out. He charged me about 30% more than what I had paid the last time. ‘Prices have gone up since,’ he enlightened me and stretched his had a little more towards me. I asked for a receipt. ‘You got the certificate. There is no receipt.’ I said something to the effect that this was not fair. ‘Are you authorized to charge so much?’ I asked, now thoroughly saddened and desperate. ‘You can check elsewhere,’ he pointed out. I asked him to show me the official price document. He said there was no such document. ‘You can return the certificate if you don’t want to pay,’ he offered me a way out of the impasse. He looked at the road and shuffled his feet as if he had a line of customers to attend to. There was not a soul behind me, but his manner, unrelenting and impatient, unsettled me. I thrust an amount that was a little less than he asked for and vowed never to get my car certified from him again. He did not insist on being paid what he had demanded. He pocketed the money and said there were some in the city who charged more than he did. He was probably right, for there was apparently no stipulated fee. I knew of course that the price varied every six months or so, but what I did not expect was a price differential for the same service.
Private operators run this service under the banner of RTA, the Road Transport Authority. Operators house their equipment in a van parked by the side of the road. It is their mobile office and service center rolled not one. Besides the driver, there is just one technician who actually does the job. There was no other operator for miles on either side of the road. There is always a cop not far from the mobile checkpoint. He would intercept you at a traffic junction to make his dirty deal. Reminds me of the nail on the road that pierces the unsuspecting tyre and flattens it. The harried motorist thoroughly dismayed finds a fix not far down the road. You pay what the roadside puncture man demands – they don’t allow you the luxury of a haggle. One could argue, ‘Why don’t you pay what the pollution check technician asks for?’ The RTA banner does not force him to abide by government rules – there are no rules. He is just a private operator, an authorized service provider. That’s all.
“The next time you see a mobile pollution testing van in your neighbourhood, chances are that it is running without the government’s permission…” warns The Times Of India. It went on to add, “What’s more, these centres are also charging exorbitant fees for pollution check.” Now, isn’t that cool!
I reminded myself that despite our socialist leanings we are a nation of private enterprise. We pay by the price tag. If there is none, we pay by bargain. If that is not allowed, we have the option to move on and find another. In the process we run the risk of getting caught for non-compliance of government rules. Bribe your way out, but that is only a momentary relief. If you haggle with a cop, it might get worse. He may challenge you on other counts like license, registration papers, seatbelt, tinted glasses and so on. One never knows what is amiss until it is demanded by the authorities. And they do it adroitly – lying in wait for an ambush round a corner, when you least suspect it. Like the nail on the road, dropped deliberately by the puncture man to ensure that his business runs smoothly.
New vehicles don’t pollute as much as their older cousins, less so the diesel variety. According to a government-run website, four wheelers of the petrol variety cause 12% of total pollution from automobiles as against only 2% by the diesel vehicles. Why not make an exception for diesel motorists? And for new cars less than five years old. But it is easier to make overarching rules, a lot easier to enforce, a lot easier to collect more money by way of penalty for non-compliance, a lot easier to assess annual returns from the number of registered vehicles, a lot easier to comply with international norms for pollution check. It is, alas, a lot easier for the cop on the road to make quick money on the sly.