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Selling helmets the smart way

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HARD-HEADED in Gujarat.
HARD-HEADED in Gujarat.

The people of Gujarat are known as much for their commitment to seeing the Narmada project through as for their business acumen in all their dealings. One area they have been found wanting though is their inability to abide by the law on most matters, evident to the cursory onlooker in the chaotic traffic conditions that prevail across its cities.

Thus, it was with a sense of incredulity that I took on the sight of hundreds of scooterists and bikers (there are many more two-wheelers in this city than there are cars) move around Ahmedabad wearing helmets during a recent visit. Quite amazing as efforts in the past to get the people of the city to put on helmets had ended dismally.

On inquiry, it came out from a couple of old Ahmedabad hands that the State government decision to introduce helmet last November had drawn the usual dose of cynicism.

"There was no way anybody was going to shell out Rs 400-600 for something that could be bypassed in the form of a Rs 50 spot fine. Even if one had gone in for a helmet at Rs 400, it could have been justified only if you were nabbed eight times. The probability of this happening was quite remote," said Jayesh Shah, a vociferous non-believer in helmets then.

This line of reasoning held good only for a while, as a few enterprising souls smelled a great business opportunity there. A few weeks into the `Helmet Raj' and the market began snowing `bargain' helmets. The price line went into a free fall and came down first to Rs 100 and then to Rs 75, before settling at Rs 50, the same rate that one would have to pay the traffic police, if copped once.

"True, these were extremely poor quality helmets, that would shatter on the slightest impact, let alone save anybody's skull in case of a crash. But there was a perfect match on the price front... with what one have to pay the police as fine if copped", added Darshan Patel, who is now a born-again evangelist who waxes eloquent on the desirability of helmet usage.

Efforts by the State government to weed out `spurious helmets` by insisting that all helmets should have ISI marks was exposed in a matter of days.

The market was flooded with ready-to-stick ISI marks priced at Rs 15 and soon enough the authorities climbed down, insisting that even non-ISI mark helmets were all right.

A few months on, almost all parts of this enterprising city bear testimony to the `successful' safety drive on part of the State government.

Many of the arterial roads in the city have roadside helmet shops that vend these Rs 50-a-piece contraptions heaped up in colourful mounts.

And it is not by chance that one of the most popular joints to buy this headgear is located right behind the city's RTO (Road Transport Office).

Vinod Mathew

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 26, 2006)
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