The Top-Down

30 Dec

The new government promised us governance for the aam-aadmi.  Those of us who think this in any way means governance by the aam-aadmi are increasingly being proved to be fools.  In incdent after incident, hopes of reform towards decentralisation have been thwarted by the high-handedness of the central government.  Consider:

(1) Visa restrictions. – The government had a problem of regulating entry of foreigners into India.  It feared many persons wishing to commit acts of terrorism entered with tourist visas.  Actual events indicate otherwise.  For years, we have fought infiltrators from Kashmir who enter India illegally.  We hear periodic reports about infiltrations happening along our Kutch and Bangladesh border, and increased steps the security forces need to take to combat the same.

Yet, the reaction of the government towards ONE much highlighted entry of Headley into India was to send the government into such frenzy that it decided to clamp down on all other bona-fide travellers to our country.  Instead of taking the common-sensical measure of overhauling the immigration process, our government decided to go into a self-imposed siege.

Consequently, fake visas and travel documents continue to be made within the country.  We don’t know for sure whether the number of illegal immigrants coming into India each year has decreased.  But we will be successful in preventing bona-fide travellers from coming into India because we can’t deal with them in any other way.

(2) Reporting of FIRs. In the backdrop of the facts which have come to light in the Ruchika molestation-and-suicide case, the central government suddenly has cooked up the idea that complaints submitted to a police station should always be registered as FIRs. Is the filing of the FIR the most important, or the only part in the criminal justice system that needs reform?  Will merely treating all complaints as FIRs eliminate possibilities for members of the police to subvert legal processes?  Will it effectively redress the malady of cops not wishing to investigate cases because of political pressure or sheer lethargy?

More importantly, this step will only embolden those who have sought to use criminal justice system for their own devious ends.  “It is a sobering thought that what is being asked for is that the FIR — which is, in the end, a potent instrument, the unleashing of the might of the law — be handed over to absolutely anyone with a complaint against the world.”

This incident again highlights how the government responds with a knee-jerk reaction to issues that need urgent reform.  Rather than build capacity or bring in structural changes, the government looks for quick fixes: the government cannot regulate a large number of foreigners coming into the country, so it should reduce the number of foreigners coming in and not expand its monitoring capacity.

Similarly, if the state cannot effectively address the question of senior police officers abusing their powers, it wants to go ahead and make the process of filing a FIR compulsory, so that the Officer in charge of the police station has an even greater incentive to conduct a sham investigation and close a case.

These are just two recent instances of just how much harm such badly-conceived ideas can do to the system at large in the future.  (Other recent instances include the decision to initiate processes for according statehood to Telenagana, discussed below) Rather than invent short-term answers to serious structural issues, the government needs to give itself some space and think hard before it decides to usher in reforms.

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