Facilitated by the Shiroda People’s Forum, over 2000 residents have signed a petition addressed to the Government of Goa and the Goa Police (Traffic Department) demanding that the Traffic Sentinel Scheme must be scrapped in places like Shiroda where there are no national highways passing through the town and most roads are narrow internal connecting roads.
In Shiroda, over 500 people have received the traffic notices and challans till date and there is great resentment in the area, said Pascal Rodrigues, oo-convenor of the Shiroda People’s Forum.
He alleged that a social worker Adv Diya Shetkar who intervened in a fight between locals on 23rd December was incorrectly targeted and an FIR for rioting registered against her by the police, when she was only trying to calm down the agitated mob and arrive at a mutually acceptable solution.
Nearly 200 other residents of Shiroda have been named in the FIR and most of them including Diya Shetkar have done nothing wrong, Rodrigues said. The Shiroda People’s Forum has made an application to the JMFC at Ponda to drop the case against Adv Diya Shetkar and others as it was a clear case of mistaken identity.
People have begun to doubt their own family members, as the traffic sentinels earn about Rs 1000 for every 25 photos they upload through the app. In the pursuit to earn more, residents have started clicking photographs of their own friends and neighbors, causing anger and resentment in the town.
“While the overall idea of the scheme is good and has definitely curbed traffic offences all over Goa, one must take into account the larger picture. If there are fights in the area on a daily basis, with people accusing their own neighbours of clicking their photographs, then the scheme must be scrapped as its creating a different kind of law and order problem, said Flynn Remedios who started the signature campaign against the traffic sentinel scheme in Shiroda. They plan to get 5000 signatures from residents of Shiroda and submit the same to the government next week.
This rule which is a must on highways and other main roads, must not be implemented in smaller towns and village areas as people travel very short distances of 1-2 kilometers and it is cumbersome to use a helmet when one is going to the grocery store which could be less than a km away, opined Remedios, who has teamed up with a few residents of Ponda to start a similar signature campaign in Ponda.
“We have got requests from residents of Vasco, Margao and Ponda who want it to be a State-wide signature campaign. It’s not just Shiroda and Ponda, people living in all areas of Goa feel harassed due to the traffic sentinel scheme, which has become some sort of scam with some traffic department officials in collusion with traffic sentinels sending over 100 images of defaulters each day and earning Rs 3-4000 per day,” claimed Remedios, adding that after they reach their target of 5000 signatures in Shiroda, they will start similar signature campaigns in Margao and Ponda.
On 23rd December last year, a local mobile shop owner was forcibly evicted from his rented shop at Shiroda, after a mob of about 200 persons incorrectly suspected him to be the traffic sentinel in the area and accused him of illegally sending images to the traffic police.
The demand by residents across the State comes in the wake of the traffic cell at Panjim issuing thousands of challans to Margao, Shiroda and Ponda residents, based on photos sent by traffic sentinels.
The residents say that though the government has made wearing helmets compulsory for two-wheeler riders on all roads since past several years, but the traffic police never implemented the mandatory helmet rule till now.
Thousands of two-wheeler riders who have received challans in Margao, Ponda, Shiroda, Vasco and other towns have demanded that the helmet rule be relaxed within internal city limits, on grounds that the roads in cities and internal areas are narrow and traffic proceeds at snail’s pace. One cannot travel at more than 30-40 kms/hour on internal roads. There is no point wearing a helmet while shopping, as one stops at 4-5 places along the way to pick up vegetables and groceries, claims Rodrigues.