By: Injila Khan and Utkarsh Mishra
Abstract – “The current political situation in the country with the right-wing government and a complex set of relations between the state and the centre has given us a cause to revisit the realms of the VIP culture that has pervaded our governments and bureaucracy since the colonial era. The Central Government, with the overwhelming majority and having multiple state governments provides powers that allow them to manipulate resources and be partial towards opposition ruled state governments in issues such as vaccine allocation, interference in the governance of Delhi, etc This article, analyzing the laws behind using tinted glasses in automobiles aims to shed light on the VIP culture and the associated arbitrariness which has, time and again, been used as a political tool to evidentiate State Government’s inability to provide security to its citizens as ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are State subjects under the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. This is done to create mistrust among the citizens regarding the State Government for future elections. An instance of the same can be seen in the Kangana Ranaut case where the home ministry provided security to a celebrity just to garner media attention towards the State Government’s inefficiencies. The above statement is my personal view since threat assessment by the Home Ministry of a private person being grave enough to attract Y+ security due to a threat made by a minister in Mumbai while she was in Himachal Pradesh when the threat was doled out is unlikely to be an accurate assessment.
Legality surrounding the use of Black Films in automobiles
The Supreme Court, in the judgement of Avishek Goenka vs. Union of India & Anr. laid down the guidelines regarding the use of tinted glasses where it held that the Visual Light Transmission (VLT) of cars should not be less than 70 percent for the windscreens and not less than 50 percent for the side windows. Since the black films on tinted glasses are not removable, these tints may be allowed during day time. However, since at night, there is less visibility and light, thereby it is impossible for the VLT to be within the prescribed guidelines. This effectively creates a blanket ban on the use of tinted glass. This order generally meant that since tinted glasses would, even if they conform to the regulations in the day time, eventually reduce visibility at night, and thereby black films were effectively banned. This judgement was in light of Rule 100 of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989 which deals with the legislative regulations regarding these black films and was given on the pretext of usage of black films in the conduction of criminal and nefarious activities that were a threat to “public safety” in general.
Now, in the above-mentioned case, even though not allowed/ supported by law and absence of any notification by the competent authority the court did not enter into the arena and hence, exempted the automobiles of VIPs/VVIPs to use black films in light of safety reasons and individuals provided with Z and Z+ security could avail the same on grounds of safety subject to approval from a committee consisting of the Director-General/ Commissioner of Police of the concerned state and Home Secretary of the concerned state/centre .
It is pertinent to mention that India is a sub-tropical country with hot weather conditions over long periods. This judgement, therefore led to a huge problem of discomfort to the general masses as harsh sunlight created problems and also resulted in wastage of precious energy resources as increased air conditioning was required to maintain suitable temperatures.
Paying no heed to the fact that these black films had some suitable uses as well such as preventing the automobile owners from sheer discomfort, the Kerala High Court, in the case of Saji KM vs. The Deputy Transport Commissioner went one step ahead and banned the use of things such as curtains and other sunlight blocking clothes. Moreover, the allowance of solar control black films on the grounds of medical conditions was also not allowed by the Delhi High Court in the case of Vipul Gambhir vs. Union of India. In Vipul Gambhir case, the petitioner requested that he shall be allowed to use black films in his personal vehicle on the ground of his medical condition, where UV light created large scale reactions to his skin. Delhi HC disregarded the claim by stating that there are treatments for the same and dismissed the petition.
Even if the above-mentioned judgements are not altogether erroneous and have been done on the grounds of the greater good of the society and impartiality among citizens, it is to be realized that VIPs and other dignitaries still get the privilege of these black films on the ground of security. However, there is arbitrariness and impartiality while granting this status and this points towards an intelligible differentia among the citizens and the VIPs where the rational nexus is not clear enough.
Manifest Arbitrariness and the VIP culture
The law regarding the VIP status and the different levels of security is pretty unmechanized and gives a wide amount of discretionary power to the Home Ministry and the State Governments while providing security and the VIP status to an individual. There are 5 levels of security, in increasing order of protection and security, namely, X, Y, Y+, Z, Z+ and SPG. As per the statistics given by the India Justice Report 2019, around 14,842 VIPs were given police protection which involved the utilization of 47,557 police personnel. Compared to other countries, this is a whopping number since as per a report by the Siasat Daily, China has 435 VIPs and the US has 235. The report also stated that the number of VIPs in India was around 5 lakh eighty thousand, which is a disastrously high figure and suggests that a substantial and reckless amount of money is spent on these individuals.
Now, since a huge chunk of the bureaucracy and lawmakers enjoy a great of privilege with regard to allowances, security, etc, the stand of the Courts regarding the usage of Black films as discussed previously seems to contribute to the discrimination and further create a line of divide between the privileged and the common man.
Procedure for the allotment of VIP/VVIP status
The right to provide security to an individual has been vested upon The Home Ministry on a National Level and the State Governments on local levels. The security of high-level individuals is governed by The Special Protection Group Act, 1988(For only Prime Minister of the country and their immediate family), blue book (for the President, Cabinet Ministers, and other dignitaries) as well as yellow book (for every other dignitary). For security concerns, the yellow book and blue book have not been made available for perusal as well as the exact names of the people that have been provided security by the state. This non-disclosure was held valid in light of security reasons by the Central Information Commission in the case of Deepak vs. Ministry of Home Affairs.
However, it is sufficiently proven that the non-disclosure of such details has made the process of providing security extremely arbitrary with unlimited powers to the Government to declare any individual as a VIP and exhaust state resources to provide security to the individual. Unscrupulous exercise of power can be seen when celebrities such as Kangana Ranaut and Sachin Tendulkar are provided with high-level security (Y+ and X respectively). Moreover, to remove the VIP culture, the Apex Court in the case of Abhay Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh had directed the removal of the red beacons on the automobiles of public servants and other legislators. However, the arbitrary grant of security status and the associated exemption on tinted glasses for protection purposes has risen to be another marker proving the status of VIPs in relation to the common man. The general stand of the government to remove the VIP culture also seems to be watered down as the tint has risen to be a new sign of being the “elite” and the most VIP of the society while the common man is not afforded the privilege even on grounds of medical conditions.
Protection sought by private individuals and its impact on the state machinery
In a state so densely populated and with a police system that is already overburdened by a lot of responsibilities and nowhere near sufficient manpower or other resources, the duty of providing security to private individuals seems like an unnecessary burden on the state’s resources. However, this is in conformity with the already established idea of providing security as patronage for loyalty and subservience. Since colonial times, The British provided the perk of security to their loyal servants from the colony’s indigenous crowd. This practice has been adopted by the modern Indian Democracy as well. Ranging from Kangana Ranaut to Baba Ram Dev(people who fit into the majoritarian narrative and are loyal to the party in power. This practice has always been relevant and deters from creating a society with equal standards for everyone.
According to me, the volatility and inconsistency in the idea of the threat perception by relevant intelligence agency can be easily used as a reflection cast to prove that such reasoning for providing security without any possible enquiry or inspection instils doubt over the metrics of the whole procedure. The Madras High Court, in the case of N. Jothi vs. The Home Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu deliberated on the legality of the removal of protection granted specifically when the perception of threat was changed as a result of change in the ruling party.
Apart from this, there have been numerous other inconsistencies in the arena of providing security to private individuals. In the case of Rajinder Saini vs. State of Punjab & Ors, the petitioner applied for security from the P&H HC under a writ petition and even agreed to pay the price for the same. Now, the court dismissed the petition citing that the state cannot provide security merely on request, as such security protections are seldom provided to any ordinary citizen. .Resultantly, it was held that security cannot be granted to an Ex-Minister in the absence of credible information regarding a threat to the life of the official as Art. 21 of the Constitution of India does not distinguish between the same.
Even standing on the grounds of rationality and reason, a state accepting payment for providing security defeats the basic aims of a welfare state as the safety of the citizens is a moral and constitutional imperative of the state and if there is a threat, then the security is the state’s duty and if there is no threat, then there is no obligation on the state to provide such security. This is the same reasoning that is applied to law enforcement and criminal investigations being absolutely free of cost, even if an abhorrent amount of money is utilized during the same as per the social contract theory of the modern welfare state.
However, in the case of Ramveer Upadhyay vs. R.M. Srivastava & Ors. The SC ordered the petitioner to pay a fraction of the cost of the security personnel provided for his protection. Providing protection to private personalities by billing them has also been seen in the case of Mukesh Ambani (pays 15-16 lakhs per month for Z level) and many other instances.
To facilitate inclusivity, equality, and a citizen-centered model of governance, there is an inherent need to make sure that no citizen receives any undue privilege and the distribution of limited resources is kept at the fairest levels possible.
This article suggests that these black films are a manifestation of the VIP culture upon the general public. This discrimination is through this tinted glass, and that VIP culture’s allotment being a reward for patronage by the State. This makes for a world where policy discussion is discouraged, lobbyists are tied down and we, as citizens, see these tinted glasses as a VIP passes amongst us and feel inferior.
The arbitrary nature of the VIP status allotment, privatization of such status by cost imposition, and the inherent bias in the tinted glasses where the medical necessity of a citizen is undervalued to the safety of a privileged lot whose security was never granted fairly in the first place. This creates a world where there is democracy at the helm, and a stubborn aristocracy at the roots, imperfectly disguised and comfortably distinguishable.
[Injila Khan is a second year BA LLB student of Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad and Utkarsh Mishra is a 4th year BBA LLB student of Symbiosis Law School, Noida]