Breaking the rules of the road attracts little or no fine in Arunachal Pradesh, unless the “traffic law” violator is a pig or a cow in a village in the Frontier State’s East Siang district.
Three years before the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, prescribed heavy penalties on traffic rule violators across India, the elders of Ledum village imposed fines on livestock loitering on the road leading to district headquarters Pasighat.
The quantum of fine read: a bullet for a pig, ₹500 for a cow and possibility of it being auctioned off.
“It was difficult at first to impose the fine. Some village youth came out with their hunting guns and began shooting the pigs to let people know the rules were not to be taken lightly,” Tatar Taying, the 53-year-old gaon burah (village elder) told The Hindu .
A gun is a prized possession for many men belonging to the Adi community whose festivals include Aran involving community hunting. Ledum has 112 Adi households while three families belong to the Galo community.
By early 2017, a little more than a year after the villagers pledged to keep the village road and surroundings clean, the village youth shot 10 pigs. The pig-rearers have never since let the animals out of their enclosures.
The fine on the cows was conditional, though. “We kept grazing in mind and let the cattle use the road during the day. But cattle owners were fined ₹500 per cow if found to have been let out after dusk,” said 55-year-old Tatiram Padung, another gaon burah .
In 2016-17, the village committee collected ₹5,000 in ‘bovine fine’. The collection slumped to ₹2,500 and ₹1,500 during the subsequent financial years. Only ₹500 has been collected since April this year.
“The dip in fines is a good sign, implying the people were getting used to cleanliness. The villagers also imposed ₹100 as penalty on those who threw plastic and other wastes around. But no one had to pay because keeping the village spic and span had already become a habit. This was remarkable for a village that was once tagged dirtiest in central Arunachal Pradesh,” said Ajay Kamsi, a cultural activist based in Sille village nearby.
He attributed much of the change in the mindset to John Pada, a local and now the Superintendent of Police of Kamle district, who spread awareness on the issue.
Ledum’s transformation has made it a “showcase village” for the East Siang district administration. This has translated into a project to develop the partly-metalled Pasighat-Ledum road as a double-lane highway connecting Basar, the headquarters of Lepa Rada district, 90 km away.
The villagers have also added value by making Ledum a mural village. Some 15-20 members of the Arunachal Akademi of Fine Arts are painting the walls of the houses with a blend of traditional and modern art. The artwork is being readied ahead of the first Easterly Essence Ledum Festival in October.