Over the years, rarely have I renewed my annual vehicle insurance on time. More than procrastination, the remote possibility of being apprehended by Law Enforcement Authorities played a bigger role in my attitude towards the issue. This constantly wrangled upon my conscience until one day I made myself a promise- In the event that I get caught by the Traffic Police for an expired insurance, I would pay a hefty penalty in accordance with the law rather than trying to bribe my way out of the situation. That was the punishment I would give myself for my careless attitude.
A fortnight went by after that promise before the inevitable happened.
I was pulled over by a traffic constable one evening while returning home from work. As the constable guided me to the Traffic Sergeant, I reminded myself of the promise and waited patiently until the sergeant who was yelling at another young man turned his attention to me.
‘License’ the sergeant snapped as I rummaged through my wallet and handed it over.
‘Insurance’ he asked moments later.
‘Sir, my insurance has expired’ I replied casually.
‘1500 rupees fine’ he said and turned away to deal with the young man again.
I took out my purse and realized that I did not have that much cash on me.
‘Sir, do you know where the nearest ATM is?’ I asked
Looking slightly puzzled he pointed towards one end of the busy four way junction.
After withdrawing money, I stopped at a shop to buy myself some chewing gum. From the corner of my eye, I could see the sergeant noticing my every move now as I sauntered back towards him.
The sergeant reach for his receipt book and seemed to fill in my particulars before hesitating and turning back to me
‘Why have you not renewed your insurance on time Sir?’ he asked
‘I was just caught up with work’ I shrugged
‘You are in IT?’ he asked. The spontaneous decision to pay such a big fine without a fight perhaps made him think that it could only be IT money!
‘Not exactly Sir. I am a designer’ I replied
‘You are educated Sir. You should always renew your insurance on time’ he smiled.
‘I know and that is why I am ready to pay my fine for not doing so’ I replied
The sergeant hesitated for a moment unsure of what to do before concluding ‘Sir, just pay 300 rupees and leave’
‘Sir, I’d rather prefer to pay the full fine amount. I will pay 1500 and I want a receipt’ I said sternly, wondering if he was asking me for a bribe
‘Why?’ he asked, genuinely confused
‘Because if I don’t pay the hefty fine now, I don’t think I will renew my insurance anytime soon’ I replied
The sergeant remained silent for a minute before thrusting his hand out.
‘I don’t know what to say but I really appreciate your attitude’ he smiled as we shook hands and I paid the legal fine.
‘But as much as I am proud of you, I do feel sorry for people like you’ he added as an afterthought just as I was about to leave.
That evening, I realized how easy it is in our society to be corrupt rather than stay honest.
I perhaps paid the full fine amount that day only because I had the time, money and preconceived intent to do so. But what if I hadn’t had that much money or time on my hands? Would personal integrity alone have been enough to the temptation to bribe myself out of the situation? The answer is probably No. I might have taken the offer of 300 rupees and left. This just highlights the fact that Law enforcement authorities cannot afford to tempt its citizen’s integrity quotient too much. Only strict Enforcement will produce a collective surge in our societies respect for the rule of law. More importantly, I believe strict enforcement will erode the ‘endangered’ stigma attached to honest people’s minds in a society as dishonest friendly such as ours.
P.S- I renewed my insurance within a week after paying the penalty.