When trying to turn left at any traffic junction in Chennai, one needs to either presume that a ‘free left turn’ is allowed, or wait patiently for the signal and be subjected to sneers and abuses from the vehicles behind, especially the auto-rickshaw variety. Nobody knows what the default setting is.
In the absence of a clear sign that says ‘free left turn” or a clearer sign that says “No free left. Wait for signal”, one can conveniently presume the former, except that every now and then a cop would have stationed himself immediately after the left turn to nab the culprit and slap a fine legally or collect a bribe. Ask him where does it say that ‘free left turn” is not allowed, he will retort: “Where does it say it is allowed?”. On some other days, the friendly cop positioned just ahead of the left turn would wave his hands urging you to carry on, thus lulling you into a false belief that it is indeed the default setting. A nice way to set you up for the trap the next time round.
In fact, in no traffic junction can one find all the lights working. In an intersection near my house, when approaching the signal from the east, the green light doesn’t work, so absence of red light means “go”. When approaching from the south, the red light doesn’t work, so absence of green light means ‘stop’. As I cross that intersection frequently I know the protocol, but there are many who don’t. So, much confusion is caused. And, it’s been this way for months, though many of us have complained many times. It’s an excellent hunting ground for the prowling cops.
Unclear rules or ambiguity in law is the main cause for corruption. Law-enforcers can apply their own interpretation and trap the unwary citizens. Soon, some of the citizens learn to outsmart the system and to remain vigilant while breaking the rules. Dubious methods employed by the law-makers and dishonourable survival techniques used by the followers create a vicious cycle.
Similar dishonourable methods are to be seen in all laws- income tax, commercial taxes, electricity rules, you name it. Wrong and exaggerated claims are made by the departments ( the tone of the notice will imply that you are a dangerous criminal who deserves to be imprisoned) and the assessees will find some dishonourable method to settle the claim, even when they know that they’ve done nothing illegal.
If we need to clean up our society, we should start with the traffic signs first, and then move on to larger things.