Broken Windows

Every once in a few Thursday afternoons, I run into Samir Dalvie, who often comes up with interesting and challenging points of view that sometimes become fodder for this column. Thank you Samir for this one!

This Thursday, he spoke to me about the “Broken Windows” postulate, which I had read earlier in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”. This theory was first proposed by two social scientists, James Q Wilson and George L Kelling, in the March 1982 issue of “The Atlantic Monthly”.

To quote verbatim, “Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.”

Mumbai’s “Broken Windows” is clearly the complete lack of adherence to traffic laws, mainly by those who ride two-wheelers. Over the last few years, they have realized that they can do whatever they want…break red lights, ride in the opposite direction, use the pavements instead of roads, etc… and over the last couple of years, car drivers have followed suit with equal impunity. For example, after I finished the meeting at PDH, I was headed home. There is a small traffic light opposite the petrol pump towards Shivaji Park on Cadell Road. Not one person bothered to stop at that light… not one…at 3.00 PM in the afternoon.

Somewhere down the line, this has also fueled increasing road rage. Last Sunday, I was walking on the pavement outside The Palladium and got into a huge scrap with a car that wanted to enter the Palladium and just wouldn’t let us cross…finally I had to stand in front of the car so that my family could walk by…and there came a point, where the driver almost ran me over.

More importantly, the idea that you can get away breaking traffic laws almost all the time and that even if caught, you can pay off and walk away, seems to be percolating down to all walks of life. People now believe that they can pay off almost anyone, anytime for anything. Kickbacks in all walks of life have become the norm, and on one seems to bat an eyelid anymore, Mr. Hazare et al notwithstanding. Perhaps the increasing incidence of rape and abuse is also part of the same social milieu that is breeding an overall lack of fear for those who enforce the law.

If I were in charge, I would do just one thing. Enforce with a zero-tolerance policy, the white line rule. At every traffic light, irrespective of the time of day or night, when the signal turns red, each vehicle has to be behind the solid, unbroken white line. Whoever crosses this line will be fined. The fine will be a minimum of Rs. 5000. Three violations will lead to the license being impounded for a minimum of six months. At major junctions, policemen will enforce this rule…and use traffic cameras everywhere else.

We have seen this work! The police has been cracking down heavily on drunk driving and most people are generally scared to drink and drive, except for idiots like the couple that got caught on the JVLR last week. We need to do the same thing with the overall traffic situation.

We need to fix our broken windows quickly, before the whole building comes down! 


  • Bhavin – I agree with you entirely, except for the amounts of fines – multiply that by three, and now we are talking !
    The only downside to that will be that the bribe will also go up – hey hang on – that is an upside also … No one will want to keep on giving high bribes for very long – and they, hopefully will see the error of their ways, and mend them… We live in hope !

  • Zero tolerance for all traffic rules. Espwcially ones involving lane driving and one ways. A serious crackdown on two wheelers. Then maybe we might have a chance.

  • Zero tolerance for all traffic rules. Espwcially ones involving lane driving and one ways. A serious crackdown on two wheelers. Then maybe we might have a chance.

  • Agreed in toto. We have scant respect for anything on the roads be it pedestrians or other vehicles or even an ambulance. And I for one have been trying to change myself over the past two weeks and found that I am less stressed out when behind the wheels. The fact, I have noticed, is that drivers are trying to run a race to the never ending finish line and in the process are breaking rules with impunity. And I don’t mean 2 wheelers alone, even cars, trucks, BEST buses, you name it…. We need to discipline ourselves as well rather than an external danda trying to force you.

  • I totally agree.Fines should be very high…say Rs.5000/- for whosoever it maybe.I would go further suggest that a part of the fine should go to the cop…say Rs.500/- This could be tried for a month.This will be a supplement to their already poor income.

    Shyam Bajaj.

  • I totally agree.Fines should be very high…say Rs.5000/- for whosoever it maybe.I would go further suggest that a part of the fine should go to the cop…say Rs.500/- This could be tried for a month.This will be a supplement to their already poor income.

    Shyam Bajaj.

  • Govind Gadiyar wrote:

    The solution to implement Broken Window in Mumbai is simple and as follows:

    Take one area like let us say Matunga Station Road and put 100% resources like BMC, Police and everything with zero tolerance. When people will see and taste the benefit of rule of law it is possible they may insist every day and also other areas will demand too.

    Our problem is limited resources. So just like Bhagwat Saptaha we need a Matunga Satpaha which covers everything from garbage to traffic to railway station and bus stops and Kabutarkhana. Everything strictly as per rules.

    Yes. It is possible and it works.

  • Sriganesh wrote:

    Simple! Fix high resolution cameras at every traffic light and every crossing. Just send the photo and fine to the car owner. The cost of entire camera will get paid off in no time and Mumbai police wil make a huge profit. The violators would come down. I believe this has been implemented in Chennai as my taxi driver refused to jump the signal at 2 am as the taxi company would deduct the fine from his salary!!

    Can all of us petition the Mumbai police to implement this?

  • The lawlessness is seen in each and every walk of life. Nobody is afraid of law.This situation can only be improved by strict implementation of law as we had observed in time of emergency imposed by Smt. Indira Gandhi.Such emergency should be imposed for enforcement of Rule of law. Woh subah kabhi to ayagi ? Ayegi kya?

  • Great Article….as usual you hit the nail on the head.. a Zero Tolerance policy would surely work… that is why in the West, people don’t break the law easily.. the consequences are 2 steep !!

  • Dr. Rahul Navalkar wrote:

    The basic problem is that our law makers are law breakers. They have no intention of strengthening the law. Hence the lawlessness trickles down all the way to the general populace.
    Till the menace of criminalization of politics is tackled head on small measures will serve no purpose.

  • Dr. Awesh Gambre wrote:

    I completely agree with you sir, but I think there is a bigger problem than just broken windows. We have people who have the tendency to do bad/wrong things irrespective whether the windows are broken or mended. Because they have been doing those things all their lives so long that for them whatever they do is completely right and normal. It’s the mentality and a way of life that is unlikely to change! Believe me I am a very positive person but I think that our windows and buildings are broken beyond repair.

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    Nothing will change- we are far down the rot! Sorry for the pessimism but be realistic- In our country (I still call it ‘Our’) only two things work- money power or political power. NOTHING else! I agree with Dr. Navalkar.

  • Sushama ramchandani wrote:

    Any community to have excellent living standards should work well on all fronts, like good roads, clean surrounding , no hawkers, wide , clean footpaths etc etc.
    Being a proud citizen of the ‘ city of 21st century’-navi mumbai-a few months back, we used to pity those living in mumbai.
    We had ample space, less population, more greens, better ‘ so called’ infrastructure etc.
    Sadly, we are following the same dirty path of mumbai.!
    Bad news is no body seems to take pride in their assigned jobs.People are full of excuses.garbage vans donot come.sweepers do not work.Their supervisor doesn’t want to be disturbed!.even if, I take a round of my locality , as an alert citizen, nobody is answerable, or accountable.Inspite of technology boom, india being a powerful market for smartphones etc , these authorities will always insist that you go to ward office & complain;-) .It is just a trick used to discourage us from pursuing
    useless! matters.why can’t grievance s be taken by email, sms.why no fast track for this?
    I have become so cynical, that I get a feeling since I complain about inefficient garbage clearance, people are taking sadistic pleasures in not clearing it at all.
    I donot see any improvement in near future.poor anna hajare tried .& the whole movement just died.why no one came forward that time & said ,’ look, let’s try in xyz town/city for this much period .then will review.why not the way like a pilot study/clinical trial?’
    Bring on good ‘ phoren’ political parties-a german, japanese etc from ‘ honest ‘ countries, to have clean , efficient governance.
    India’s history shows that we get impressed only by outsiders.what a shame

  • Dr. Awesh Gambre wrote:

    I completely agree with you sir, but I think there is a bigger problem than just broken windows. We have people who have a tendency to do all bad/wrong things irrespective whether the windows are broken or mended. Because these people have been doing these wrong things all their lives and for so long that for them whatever they do is completely right and normal.May be its because at the places where they come from its a normal thing to do or the upbringing. Its a mentality and a way of life which is unlikely to change. Its a complex equation, police and law cannot be blamed for everything, its about being a responsible citizen even when there are no police or cameras, its something that only comes from within. Its actually not the broken windows that we need to repair. A realistic way to go about things would be to include these common laws and general ethics in all schools as a compulsory subject. At least we can change the way of living and mentality of the coming generations.

  • Bhavin,

    That is good. You should use your pen more often to bring out such issues, as you have a very good platform to do the same.
    There are many of us working on these problems with plenty of constraints. We need people like you to highlight the pathetic state that we are here in, as far as lack of principles, civic sense, no law and order whatsoever in this lovely land of ours.
    Our so called netas will never bother to correct these shortcomings, as long as their coffers are filled with unlimited loot. They will only wake up when they are affected.
    It is people like you and me who are troubled, troubled to see this lovely, beautiful country (already in the kennel)going to the sty, and we are the ones to be blamed. Our children are going to blame us for what we are leaving behind.
    I am with you as far as having fun and frolic, joking and all. I am one of the best, having seen the world.
    However there is a time and place. The law and order situation in the country (especially the once loved City of Bombay)has taken a big jolt and like corruption that has mingled in our blood. We have lost our sense of civility, discipline and care a damn for the law.
    Now there will be some who will object to me calling Mumbai, Bombay. That’s all. We are very good at fighting among ourselves. Why can’t we get together and trash out the few parasites that are eating into our system.
    Have just returned from a day trip on the Western Express highway towards Vapi. One has to see to believe the happenings taking place. I drive myself and it is only due to the discipline and driving sensibility that I have returned in one piece.
    The highway is no highway. It is just a village, people crossing without any care. We have to watch out for them. Dumpers (heavy duty trucks)carrying earth coming towards one on the wrong side, dropping mud all over the place, leaving the road with spike like droppings.
    Motorbikes galore on the wrong side.In fact while returning, one guy nearly came into me. Have learnt the art of defense driving which saved the day.
    While going a 20 odd lakh vehicle came out of nowhere and instead of joining the last lane headed straight for the fast lane. To be truthful most patches of the road, including the flyovers are very good (hats off to the contractors), so one can go at 80 kmph which is allowed. I was at 70 as I prefer to have control of my vehicle. It should not control me. I kept flashing my headlights, but the guy took no notice. He stopped bang on the fast lane, driver facing me. I managed to stop a few few feet away from him. He just moved on without batting an eyelid forget an apology (sure he did not know the spelling).
    An after thought I was hoping that I had the Land Rover, then I would have liked to see his face.
    My associate at the other end advised me to leave early, as he said that there are
    many more a…..on the road, and they are mostly from the underworld with connections. So what have we come to?
    Do we have to live in fear?

  • Baljit Saini wrote:

    I am a 3rd grade teacher in a school and I faced one such problem. I was driving down a one way street around 4 in the afternoon when a school bus ferrying children from one of the super wealthy very private schools of Mumbai entered the one way street in the wrong direction. The bus driver honked and shouted and expected me to move out of the way because he had the bigger vehicle. I point blank refused to move my car or reverse because I was in the right and he was mistaken.

    Eventually, the police came by to see what the commotion was. Instead of fining the bus driver, he had the gall to ask me to reverse my vehicle (even though I was in the right) and allow the bus driver to pass through. I stood my ground and clicked a photo of the school bus and of the police constable and threatened to forward his photo to the local chowky if he did not uphold the law. Suddenly, the police man realized the correct law and asked the bus driver to reverse. He still did not fine the bus driver for travelling against traffic in a one way.

    I plan to complain to the school in question about the bus driver as well as forward a complaint to the police station about the constable in question.

  • Dr. Sunil Kamath - (Sr. Traffic Warden). wrote:

    Bhavin (ji), Without getting into ‘trivial’ matters like ‘Traffic’ offences & ‘Offenders’…personally I feel that, The ‘chalta hai’ attitude has percolated down the line as the ‘Netas’ themselves have indulged in High level corruption and also seem to be ‘getting away’ with it. With one of the Minister(s) coming out Smiling & flashing ‘V’ signs triumphantly as he was released on Bail and being welcomed by his followers with Band-Bajja…It has sent a signal to the masses that, IF ONE HAS THE MONEY & THE ‘CONTACTS’…one get away with anything (including murder as some reports of the happenings in our jails tell us).

    The in-discipline that we see in our every-day lives, is DIRECT result of this Chalta-Hai attitude where MONEY has become the ALL PERVADING FACTOR…The more riches one flouts, the more support one is able to ‘garner’…Hence we see even the SMALL TIME POLITICIAN moving about in a SUV (which incidentally has become a STATUS SYMBOL), and indulging in a VULGAR DISPLAY of his ILL-GOTTEN WEALTH.

    As for the BROKEN WINDOWS to be mended .. IT is now TOO LATE .. as the right time to to it was in 1948 when the FIRST EVER SCAM in INDEPENDENT INDIA (The Army Jeep Scam) was detected ..

    Speaking of ROAD RAGE(s), I may add that even though I have been blessed with a physique, wherein even though I am ‘capable’ of handling a couple (if not more) of ‘goons’ on my own … I would NOT DARE TO GET INVOLVED .. as every Tom, Dick and Harry now considers himself to be a ‘BHAI’ (Don) and anyone is capable of brandishing a ‘CHOPPER’ or a ‘GHODA’.

    Every other individual is busy blaming the other person, without stopping to think and introspect.

    A Thousand Anna Hazares may come and go, BUT SADLY this STATE OF AFFAIRS will continue till such time time each and every individual stops for a minute and tries to see within and realizes his/her own responsibilities and what is expected out of them..

  • jamna varadhachary wrote:

    Yes zero tolerence is needed. Worst crossings, for the driver are BB Dadar Ranade road and dharavi where the road from the dargah cuts the road. No pedestrian stops and the poor driver. and what do you think of the following. Bridge from Nhava Sheva to Sewri and people in Sewri whose house is on the way will get a tenement. People have built little huts on the footpath. and made two houses from one by adding a new door and partitioning into two rooms. These are “surveyed” and certified as in existence for a consideration of Rs 15000/-, This is a true story.

  • V.Subramanian wrote:

    Kudos to Mr.Baljit Saini for what he did and what he plans to do.

  • Jayesh Desai wrote:

    Wow! This one has touched a raw nerve, so many lengthy comments! Sadly we all are missing fundamental truth. The buck stops at top. The CM was partaking the feast at one lakh guest wedding as seen in video, he forgot all about draught in state then. The sad truth is those at the helm of affairs have abdicated their duties, all they are interested instead in is amassing money for themselves. You go to any government office, the moment they see someone one approaching them their mind starts working “how much I will make? ” same is true for police. So tell me how hefty fine will work? MP, MLA are called law makers, check out history of 60 years, how many laws have been enacted? So we have laws like Bombay police act still in effect without any major changes. They want Mumbai not Bombay but no change in British enacted laws. Other example is rent act. Which resulted in slums mushrooming in Bombay. How absurd to freeze rent at pre-independence levels? So things will deteriorate and law of jungle will prevail. Remember the case of NRI Samaritan who ended up in ICU with broken skull and smashed brain done by baseball bat (who plays baseball in India? ) used by drunk motorist who was smashing up another car in BKC? This was at 6-7 am. Poor fellow was taking morning walk! So let your instincts of survival override all other ethimoral consideration and reach home safely to your dear ones. Please don’t stand in front of cars to prove your point. Every week we read of traffic police injured trying to do so.

  • While laws, law makers, law protectors have their place we should not forget our place. We have to uphold the law. If we don’t stand in front of cars and school buses breaking rules we will one day be run over by them anyway.

  • Prabha Vinay wrote:

    I strongly agree with you on this Sir! Its high time that we need to impose some strict rules and fines to control the ever-increasing attitude of breaking traffic rules. Though I am proud to be an Indian one visit to any of the European countries or Japan make me feel ashamed of one thing that why can’t we simply make us follow the traffic rules strictly in our own country when we proudly display our traffic sense when we are elsewhere!!

  • Bhavin with your consent….

    Mr. B Saini,

    Wish there were more Gentlemen like you. We would positively have seen a change.
    Have not given up hope. With comments like these and from other columns/forums. Rest assured we are getting there. One step at a time.
    Things are coming out in the open. Not in closed doors any more.
    As far as the so called top people are concerned. We should treat them as if they are not there at all (non entities). The Country is running (moving) in spite of them, not because of them. So. If we want a change. We need to change ourselves first.

    Take Mr. Saini’s case. If he were to give in to that errant driver and that rogue cop. We would have had a different story.Surely he has (and hope will)and will have taught the guys a lesson. And if he goes through with lodging a complaint.I am sure the school authorities at the least will take action, as it is always the children who are put in danger (we have and are seeing this every other week), not the driver or cleaner. They will escape, if and when a heavier vehicle coming in the right direction slams into the bus.

    Mr. Parag has raised a very valid point.
    The one thing we lack. Prevention is better than cure. We always regret after some misery has taken place.
    Sir, I too love my Family and my Grandson very much and would love to be with them. But then we also have to see that their future is not bleak, not messed up because we did not act, that we did not do the least that was expected of us. That this country is not run by rogues, it does not become Banana Republic.
    We should do what we did when that innocent Delhi girl was raped….keep pressure on the authorities. They cannot save us from these blasts. We can at the least hold them accountable for what is clearly visible.
    And last but not the least. When an innocent person is attacked anywhere on the road, each and every bystander should act.Trust me the rogue seeing this will bolt. We are in a majority(good people). Why let a few rascals/misfits hold us to ransome, take us for a ride.
    I am not here to stir up any trouble. I am here to open peoples eyes, and rest assured I practice what I preach.

  • We are living in a mad world truely. The government permitted every international car giant to enter our market making good money for themselves putting us in a greater mess. No infrastructure, no roads, no rules. Every family wants a BIG car for their SMALL children. Forgetting the roads are still the same. A SMALL car now suddenly fit only one family member when I remember just a decade ago a small car was great luxury for the whole family. We MUMBaites are our own enemies driven by ego, money and disillusioned by great marketing gimmicks. Why will the government make better roads? Those service co.s, garages are making a moolah. The government has no limit on migrants, no public transport improved for the every increasing population. Hospitals are making the moolah too as our illnesses grow due to all these stressful factors while they too pay their bit to keep the ministry happy.Now all those sick people cant travel in a bus right? So its a vicious game and all play a role.

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