Friday, November 10, 2006

Wheeling, Dealing & Sealing

Over the past 10 days or so – the news from India has been about something called “sealing”. The visuals accompanying the news are all of people protesting – as we know best in India. Burning vehicles, stone pelting, road blocking, disrupting normal life – what else is new?

A quick search on the internet revealed that traders in Delhi are protesting against a Supreme Court order which says that all commercial establishments operating in ear-marked residential areas ought to be sealed shut. So I’m wondering, what’s wrong with that? It’s a designated residential area, the traders were wrong to set up a commercial establishment there, it ought to shut down. Agree? As a matter of fact – these guys ought to be persecuted for flouting land laws so openly. And finally when they are being taken to task for this illegality, not by the administration but by the courts, they have taken the law into their hands.

What’s worse is that the Delhi government and the government at the centre is so spineless that it petitioned a stay citing “law and order problems”. Is the Delhi government trying to say – it is so defenseless, that it cannot handle a few hundred protesting traders?

At this juncture I must say, kudos to the Supreme Court of India for showing some resolve and strength in refusing to budge from its position. It seems to be the only institution with some spine!

I do realize, everything is not as Black & White as I have made it out to be. There are a number of issues at hand here

  • The social cost of the sealing: The livelihood of the traders, their employees, their families and by extension to all those who were servicing these establishments is in jeopardy right now. Who is going to bear this cost?
  • What about all those authorities that turned a blind-eye all these years to these establishments? The ones that benefited from them? How are you going to penalize them?
  • Vote-Bank Politics: Of course, everyone knows traders are rich vote-banks, in all senses of the word, rich. The party that fails to care for them, will undoubtedly pay a price in the coming elections.
  • The Common Man: There seems to be no end to his suffering. Daily bandhs and protests have jeopardized daily life making attending school and work difficult.

A true sign of a living and healthy democracy is ‘people power’, where people are willing to let their protests be known to the government they have elected. And the government is forced to take the wishes of the people into consideration. As far as this issue goes, I think we have crossed the limit from democracy to ‘mob-ocracy’ where violent mob behavior is forcing the government to enact a change in the legislation. The Central government, for example – has hurriedly passed the controversial Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006 — a piece of legislation specifically designed to circumvent the judiciary's orders. It suggests that the Central and Delhi government are willing to let off the hook those who have already flouted land laws. The governments seem to be flirting with the idea of wanting to stand up against the Supreme Court – a dangerous practice. With matters coming to such a pass, it is difficult to see an immediate way out of the logjam.

I am reminded of the “hawker-free” zones that the Municipal Authority wanted to create in Mumbai. It designated some areas where hawkers could not operate. I still remember, hawkers being evicted, the protests that followed – and the fact that a couple of years later – when the governments changed the hawkers were right back. I wonder, if the nation’s capital is going that way too.


At 1:21 PM, Blogger Alan said...

This was a very interesting post. I usually read Google News and the India Google News during lunch hour. Never was clear what this "sealing" thing was all about.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger the mad momma said...

well yes, it is about vote banks. but more than that... i don't think the traders should really complain. they knew they were doing something illegal and were bribing lower level authorities a few thousand bucks. so to get all righteous and emotional about it now is rather stupid. they should be grateful for the time they managed to get away with it! got too much to say in just a comment space.

At 3:50 AM, Blogger artnavy said...

Anything illegal needs to be nipped in the bud, else it turns into an ugly fiasco of mammoth proportions
Maybe the junta can decide not to frequent these shops...

At 11:17 AM, Blogger Something to Say said...

thanks alan.
mad momma, art navy - not to these guys, the issue isint so clear. Obviously they are only thinking about themselves and their own lil shop.


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