Fellow Since 2000
This profile was prepared when Rohit Baluja was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.
Rohit Baluja is training drivers, engineers, traffic police, and all who use Indian roads to develop a positive "road culture." By defining good road use, writing training manuals, inventing law enforcement tools, and reinventing driver education, Rohit is working to make the streets safer, and saner.
The New Idea
Rohit has combined education and technology to spearhead a movement that enables citizens, police, and businesses to improve all aspects of "road culture" in India. His Institute for Road Traffic Education leads the way in reform, education, and innovation in all areas related to road use. Each of his innovations addresses an important aspect of traffic, law enforcement, driver education, or vehicle regulation. His work with police moves them beyond surface road safety issues to deeper disciplines of road management, road engineering, and the psychology of road usage. At the citizen end, Rohit uses competitions, awards, and volunteer projects to build awareness among bus drivers, truck drivers, and studentstypically the villains of Indian roads. Rohit has set up the country's first interactive drivers' training school in New Delhi and authored an exhaustive multi-disciplinarian handbook on safe driving. Already, the trainings and technologies generated by IRTE are on the road in Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan.
In 1998 there were thirty-three million vehicles on India's roads, and one out of ten was in Delhi, where Rohit's work beganthat's more than in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras combined. Aside from cars, trucks, and buses, Delhi has about two million non-motorized vehicles: horse drawn carts, handcarts, bullock carts, cycle rickshaws, and bicycles. Despite the growing number of accidents (eighty thousand people die every year on India's roads), there has been no comprehensive attempt to align the rules of the road, law enforcement, traffic management, and driver behavior. Road discipline and training are weak. Driving licenses are easily purchased and schools have irregular, undefined, non-standardized trainings. In a survey Rohit conducted in Delhi, only 10 percent of motorists remembered a fraction of driving laws; 60 percent of traffic constables fail to recognize basic traffic signals. "Road culture is completely missing in India," Rohit says. "This reflects in the worsening character of road users. And the police have no tools to manage or correct the system." Traffic policing in India is not defined. In any city its authority overlaps with municipal corporations and transport departments. Thus, while the police deal on an everyday basis with road transport, the application and enforcement of the Motor Vehicles Laws are the responsibility of the State Transport Department. This diffuses the traffic police's responsibility for ensuring road safety. In addition, the Motor Vehicle Act of India has not revised traffic violation norms and fines since 1956, causing most road violations to go unchecked or be marginally penalized. Traffic engineering has been fully recognized by a handful of universities and institutions in India. But graduates of these universities work with the municipal or traffic departments of cities as consultants, managing small, localized assignments, and have no overview of traffic as a deep and complex social system.
To deal with the depth and complexity of traffic, Rohit has reached out to all the various professions that have some stake in vehicles and roads: police, doctors, journalists, engineers, educators, automobile experts, architects, and retired professionals from the defense forces. The backbone of his effort is retooling police to understand traffic, perform their work well, and become educators of the public.Rohit is training the country's road traffic police in the science and tools of responsible traffic management. His aim is "to create lean systems for the police to manage the increasing traffic in the country without themselves having to grow in size," Rohit says. Working with police is important, but not always easy. Since its inception in 1991, IRTE has climbed uphill and has managed to break through granite police walls, securing partnerships and launching the first traffic police training program. Rohit emphasizes on building systemic capacity. Recognizing that the guardians of Indian roads are ill-equipped for their jobs, Rohit is providing traffic police the start-up training and supports they need to set up Organizational Development Cells. A first in the history of traffic police in India, the cells operate both as training centers and as research and testing cells. Since 1992, IRTE has moved into states that are most receptive to building road/traffic systems. It has identified and trained police personnel to start-up and run Organizational Development Cells. As human resource, research, and development units, they emphasize human, road, and crisis management. Traffic police headquarters at Delhi, Shillong, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Noida, and Ghaziabad have run successfully with the idea. Plans are afoot to launch the cells in Calcutta and Goa. Trained police need the right tools. Rohit has been at his inventive best in this area with his prime product: the Interceptor. Interceptors are vehicles fitted with sophisticated enforcement and surveillance equipment - multiple cameras, laser-based speed measuring devices, alcohol and pollution gas analyzers, etc. They are fitted with computers that issue traffic violation notices and fine the violator within minutes of the act. Built within the interceptor, is a road safety audit cell that detects failings of the road/traffic control system at intersections and stretches of roads - critical information for accident and traffic analysis. Interceptors also operate as mobile road awareness vehicles. Rohit has studied the technology from the west, adapted it to suit Indian roads, and then handed the interceptor to the Delhi police. Since 1995, the Interceptor has given the Delhi police revenue of one hundred million rupees raised in traffic penalties.Often, the success of Organizational Development Cells sways with the transfer of positive, result-oriented traffic superintendents. To circumvent this dependence and give a headstart to new generations of police officers, Rohit is planning to introduce courses on traffic organization development in police training institutes. To cap training with technological competence, Rohit is designing enforcement technology that matches the road usage patterns in India. IRTE's Interceptor program is a key example. It's a three-pronged collaboration between IRTE, Maruti Udyog Limited (the country's largest car manufacturers), and the police. While Maruti sponsors the vehicles, IRTE equips it with interceptor technologies and the traffic police force pays for its everyday operations. IRTE is currently running eight interceptors, on behalf of the Delhi Police. Led by the Director (Operations) of IRTE, the program is run by a team of eight cameramen, eight drivers, four traffic wardens and two road safety officers. Daily vigilance from the team feeds the data that Rohit needs to sharpen the technology. Since the launch of Interceptor I in 1995, Interceptors VI, VII and VIII have already been designed by the design and engineering cell of IRTE. Automobile engineers, electronics, and communications and design specialists assist the cell. Every Interceptor model matches global standards of traffic management systems. Rohit is now giving his Interceptor team a whole new role twist, converting them into road safety managers. In this new incarnation, they are training traffic police teams across the country to understand the Interceptor technology, adapt it to their city conditions, and then design and run their own Interceptors. Such trainings have launched Interceptors in the cities of Jaipur, Noida, and Ghaziabad. By the end of 2001, IRTE will have taken its interceptor programs to six cities. Rohit will ensure that the spread of Organizational Development Cells and the Interceptor programs are interwoven, as both support each other within the police force. The next dot on the map: the launch of Interceptor Clubs across the country. For Rohit, influencing road behaviour implies moving beyond police training and enforcement. He needs to impact the character of road users, the patterns of road usage, and the infrastructure and tools that exist for road driver training. After exhaustive research, Rohit has authored, "Safe Driving," the country's first comprehensive manual on driving in India and the laws of the road. The book also doubles as a training course and comes with an Interactive Learning System. But no driver-training institute in the country is equipped to run with the course. Thus, Rohit has partnered with the Austrian Company Hubert Ebner to set up Hubert Ebner India. Its first product: a state-of-the-art driving training school. Aware that this piece of his idea may not be easily replicable, Rohit will focus most on running trainings out of Hubert Ebner India for those sitting atop large networks of drivers - instructors of driving training schools, motor licensing officers, bus tour operators, taxi operator networks, and even government networks such as the Association of State Transport Undertakings. Trainings will be bi-lingual, hands-on, and generate driver awareness on traffic engineering, law, and road safety. The Maruti Institute of Driving Research and Training has agreed to replicate the model. As an extension to its commitment to road user awareness, IRTE also runs successful road safety competitions and awards, the most high-impact being the Student Traffic Volunteer System (STVS). University students from low-income backgrounds are trained in traffic management and education under this scheme. They train in traffic management and road user awareness and receive a stipend for offering twelve and a half hours of assistance to the Delhi Traffic Police during peak hours. Shell India, the corporate partner, and CALTEX are eager to replicate the program in two different states. Research is the mainstay of IRTE. Rohit has established a concept cell within IRTE to study and create the science of road user and traffic behaviour. The cell stores more than fifteen thousand hours of video footage on accidents and road usage patterns from all over the country. Rohit has studied them copiously and is opening the cell to students from the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi to pursue Ph.D. studies in the field. In the long-term, Rohit aims to a) set up the country's first traffic research and analysis center in every metropolitan city of the country and b) launch a highway education program with rural youth across the country.
Rohit Baluja has been a pioneer in the Indian leather industry. Scion of the family that set up the Baluja brand of shoes, in 1977-78, Rohit grew the business from leather retailing to manufacturing and export. His family became the first Indian group to export leather to Germany. Rohit has always been passionate about driving and his international travels fired it more. "Everytime I came back, I felt my road rights violated, and the roads seemed to have worsened," Rohit says. "Surprisingly, Europeans driving in India drove just as badly, if not worse than Indian drivers." The solution, quite simply, was to do something. He set up IRTE in 1990. "True enough, everyone thought I was mad," he remembers. It was a steep climb. The field was unexplored, resources unavailable, and the police obdurate as ever. Rohit plunged into intensive research on Indian and international traffic management theories, systems, technology, and law. His business trips abroad became traffic research opportunities. At last count, he had traveled to more than twenty-two countries and met with an equal number of international road safety and traffic experts. In 1996, Rohit had the singular honour of driving his Interceptor in the Republic Day parade.Rohits's commitment to building "road character" in India has kept IRTE growing financially and organizationally. He has downscaled his business to ensure that he gives quality time to it and he has been IRTE's primary funder for 9 years.