Are our laws helping the poor and starving?Sep 13, 2011 | Panini Anand
(this article was published in Deccan Herald newspaper on 21st august, 2011. it was used as anchor article on edit page. we are republishing it.)
It seems that showers during the monsoon will not help in cooling the heat on the streets of Delhi. Team Anna is on yet another attempt to starve indefinitely (which they might call the third struggle for independence and many news channels may go beyond comparing it to Tahrir square this time).
And citizens numbering more than one billion, are left to wonder once again, if one more law is going to solve all our problems.
Laws of course are the guide books to solving complications of governance and bringing services to the poorest among the poor. But I always doubt whether this trend of making numerous laws is going to help us strengthen our democracy and help solve issues we encounter in our daily life.
What is the status of the ground reality of our laws? We have one of the world’s most powerful laws to protect our environment, but in reality it is not helping us protect our courtyards and forests. India has one of the world’s strongest laws against child labour, along with the largest number of child labourers. Are our laws helping the poor and starving in our affluent nation?
We claim to be the biggest democracy in the world. Why? Just because we are home to the second largest population in the world, that exists within an electoral and constitutional system? But is that enough to be a democracy in the real sense?
A participatory democracy means going beyond voting once in five years. There has been no effort to make powerful entities (be it elected representatives like Narendra Modi, social icons like Baba Ramdev or religious institutions as of Satya Sai and many others) responsible and accountable towards the basic character and values of democracy.
We, as a frustrated and unsatisfied society, shout at political parties, curse our leaders but we never join politics. We are comfortable with ignoring the requirement of making our system work and thus, become a part of the ‘joy of giving’ clubs. We believe that feeding hungry people on the pavements in front of temples is our biggest contribution to the nation, democracy and humanity. In a society where basic values of democracy are missing from top to bottom; where we live and grow with a hunger for self-gain, rather than progressing towards a participatory, disciplined and effective mechanism, corruption can’t be cured only by bringing in laws.
This time, we are trying to bring Sanjeevani (Anna calls it Jan lokpal) like remedies for curing all cancers in our system. With its focus only on the ‘shift and try’ business, team Anna makes no attempt to bring political solutions to the problems it elucidates.
If the CVC doesn’t work, put it through a recycle bin and bring out something new. If the CBI doesn’t perform like an independent description, bring it under the umbrella of some other super cop autonomous description, instead of making it truly independent. Are we trying our best to ignore the repercussions and lessons learnt while enforcing ultra-constitutional laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act?
Two decades ago, we weakened our own system by taking wrong policy level decisions. Mega policy choices were made without any consultations and debates at the political level and with the masses, in a hurry due to self-imposed deadlines. Hence now, the corporate world controls the trajectory of political and socio-economic sectors.
Secrecy still dominates the concerns of Central and State Governments while signing MOUs with private sector companies. Even in today’s current scenario, team Anna is fighting for a law subject to self determined deadlines. Today, we benefit from an effective Right to Information Law, the passage of which was nothing short of a historical achievement.
This happened because of the many years it took to learn from the experiences from the various States, which helped us move towards a more pragmatic and comprehensive law at the national level. We can’t shortcut the process of consultations, debates and criticism. The drafting of the RTI law and the NREGS are examples of drafting progressive people’s law, which must be emulated.
We must rethink and rework our tendency of looking at the outcome of law making as an ultimate solution to our problems. Let us learn from our history. We bring one law and wait for the cure. If it doesn’t work, we wait for another.
This process has been going on for many years now. Today, instead of fighting for a super power structure, we should think about making the existing system more effective. Instead of keeping them accountable to the government, we should make them accountable to the people of this country. We should work on bringing and strengthening some specialized and independent institutions instead of a single monolithic solution.
Yes, we need a better law indeed, but not necessarily one drafted by some self appointed representatives of “civil society”. We need an honest and democratic political debate on this issue. Merely enacting a law is not going to help, unless we ensure that it works in favour of the last man in this country.
In a country riddled with an increasing number of farmer suicides, the biggest population of malnourished children, increase in acts of violence against women and minorities, forced migration, dalit exploitation and subjugation, marginalised and violation of human rights, we need to urgently make our systems and institutions work, rather than having to necessarily add new words of law in the statute books.