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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 05:00 GMT
Mumbai police battle drink driving
By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai

Mumbai traffic
Mumbai has 1.53 million vehicles

In February last year, three college students, who had been partying till late into the night, crashed their car near Malabar Hill, an elite south Mumbai locality.

One of the boys died on the spot. Another was critically injured; and the third (the driver of the luxury car) Jatin Mehra, was arrested for drink driving.

He was charged with "causing death due to negligence". He is now out on bail while the case is being heard in court.

All three belonged to rich educated families, were students of a reputed city college and, police say, they were heavily drunk.

India's financial capital has 1.53 million vehicles with several hundred new ones being added every day.

That, combined with lifestyle changes, has been posing new challenges for the police in a city which parties hard.

Mumbai is also the country's largest consumer of alcoholic drinks, thanks largely to its thriving nightlife.

Special drive

Fatal road accidents have been on the rise with more than 650 people dying on its roads last year.

In June, police launched a special drive after reports that several of the fatal accidents were caused by drivers who were drunk.

By the end of 2007, they had registered a staggering 12,000 cases against people for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Mumbai resident Aparna Parulkar
This Mumbai resident favours strict traffic rules

"This [cases of people driving under the influence of alcohol] was becoming a serious problem. Drinking is a personal choice, but drinking and driving was becoming a habit," says joint police commissioner for traffic, Vijay Kamble.

According to the police, 70% of car crashes in Mumbai involve drivers between 20 and 40 years of age.

And alarming instances of under-age youngsters getting involved in negligent driving have worsened the situation.

Aparna Parulkar, a Mumbai resident says, "When you see most of these accident cases, you see the drivers are children - in many cases only 16 or 17 years old. Who allows them to take the cars out? Shouldn't there be some check on who drives the car?"

Dr Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist, says parents are to blame for rash and drink driving involving youngsters.

High-profile cases

"They start early and are mostly indulged by their parents. Most of the times they have broken small rules, related to driving or otherwise, and because they get away, they feel powerful and seek sensation."

Dr Shetty says good education, sensitisation, and teaching youngsters to value other human beings, together with strict action against the offenders, can help the situation.

The most high-profile accident case in Mumbai involved Bollywood star Salman Khan who allegedly ran over a group of labourers sleeping on the pavement in 2002.

One person was killed in the accident. Five years later, the case is still in the trial court.

Cars in Mumbai, 11 June 2007
Mumbai's roads claim many lives every year

Police say it is often difficult to get a conviction in cases involving traffic violations.

And when convictions do come, traffic violations are not considered a serious offence and the violators get away with mild reprimand.

For instance, when 21-year-old Alistair Pereira allegedly ran over and killed seven people in November 2006, the case generated huge amounts of publicity.

But Pereira was let off by a local court with a six-month jail term.

After the Bombay High Court increased his punishment to three years, Pereira secured bail from Supreme Court.

Mumbai police say they hope the crackdown against those driving under influence of alcohol will help make city roads safer.

Since June, police have secured punishment like jail terms ranging from three days to one month for more than 2,500 offenders.

The traffic department also collected more than half a million dollars in fines, but Mr Kamble feels monetary fine is not enough deterrence, specially for the rich.

"Someone who owns a car costing several hundreds of thousands of rupees would not mind paying a few hundred or a thousand rupees when caught.

"First, the rich think they won't get caught and then they feel they would get away with a fine. A jail term changes this attitude," he says.

Mumbai drink-driving deaths fall
10 Sep 07 |  South Asia
India seeks to tackle road deaths
16 May 07 |  South Asia
Man remanded over Mumbai deaths
14 Nov 06 |  South Asia

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