Supreme Court: Red beacon on cars only for ‘high dignitaries’

Shruti Sethi

The Supreme Court on 10th December 2013 while hearing a petition related to withdrawal of VIP security of a person, which was later converted into a PIL by Uttar Pradesh resident Abhay Singh on misuse of red beacon said that red beacon lights on vehicles can only be used by people listed as “high dignitaries”, that too only when they are on duty. Stating that the red beacons and multi-toned horns are reflective of “Raj mentality” and “an antithesis of the concept of a republic”, a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and C Nagappan said their use had to be confined to constitutional authorities and others who require these for effective discharge of their official duties. “The use of red beacon on the vehicles carrying the holders of constitutional posts will in no manner compromise with the dignity of other citizens and individuals or embolden them to think that they are superior to other people, more so, because this distinction would be available to them only while on duty and would be co-terminus with their tenure,” it said.

Urging the parliament to make laws for imposition of “adequate” and “deterrent” penalty for any misuse, the bench ordered the state governments to revise their lists of “high dignitaries”. The state governments have been given three months to submit their revised lists. The court also gave one month for removing multi-toned horns on vehicles. The court added that any violations of its direction would attract exemplary penalty.  “The men in uniform; operational agencies which require unhindered access to the roads for performance of their duty; those engaged in emergency duties such as ambulance services, fire services, emergency maintenance etc, and police vehicles used as escorts or pilots or for law and order duties shall not be entitled to have red beacon but lights of other colours, e.g. blue,  white, multi-coloured etc,” it held.

“The red beacon symbolise power and a stark differentiation between those who are allowed to use it and the ones who are not. A large number of those using vehicles with red beacon have no respect for the laws of the country and they treat the ordinary citizens with contempt. The use of red beacon on the vehicles of public representatives and civil servants has perhaps no parallel in the world democracies,” it noted. The bench said the last four decades have witnessed the best political and executive practices being distorted to a massive extent, and the best example of this is the use of symbols of authority, including red beacon on vehicles of public representatives and civil servants of various cadres.

Pointing out that neither the Centre nor the state governments took any steps to check the unauthorised use of red beacon and multi-toned horns, the court said criminals use red beacon which committing offences because police officials do not check such vehicles. The court ordered that the police will implement the provisions of Motor Vehicle Act without fear or favour.  However, the term “high dignitaries” has not been defined under motor vehicle laws. The Central and state governments issue notifications periodically to specify those listed under this category. While the Supreme Court’s order aims to limit this list, the appropriate governments are authorised, under law, to take the final decision.

As a response to this judgement Principal Secretary of State Transport Department, RK Mahajan, on 11th December 2013, said, “The state transport department will take uncompromising action against the offenders as per the law. The beacon should be hidden with a black covering if the dignitary entitled is not travelling in the vehicle.” The Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police, Ashok Prasad took the lead in removing it from his official vehicles. “While implementing the Supreme Court judgment in letter and spirit, we decided to first set our own house in order.” State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that, “I have removed red beacon from my vehicles and now, I request all others, who are not authorised for it as per the apex court order, to do the same.”


  1. Indian Express and Here
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  3. The Hindu
  4. Times of India