Search This Blog

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Full circle - Delhi sealings, Deja vu

In January of this year I had a posted a note titled "The Demolitions Must Continue" arguing that the demolitions etc (Ulhasnagar and Delhi at that time) must continue. The logic being that unless the offenders are forced to pay a 'cost' for their actions, necessary change in behavior would not occur either with the affected people or the society at large. This is extremely essential when the problem concerned (illegal construction/occupation) is widespread.

However we have not learnt anything and the problem continues to surface again and again and will continue so, unless we set the right precedents and instil a degree of credibility in the laws that we make.

Lets take a look at what has happened since January - Illegal constructions in Ulhasnagar were regularised, Illegal constructions in Delhi were regularised, Illegal constructions in Dombivli are being regularised, the cut off date for slums in Mumbai extended from 1995 to 2000 (earlier extended from 1975 to 85 and 85 to 95!).

This is nothing but a band-aid over the systemic issues we have with respect to illegal constructions. The construction lobby is powerful and is in cahoots with the executive (the local municipal authorities in each respective cases). The message we are sending out to these people is that what you have/are done/doing is OK - if sufficient number of people start protesting then we will pardon/excuse your transgessions. Does this give them any reason to all of a sudden start respecting the law?

Edward Prescott and Finn Kydland were awarded the Nobel prize in economics for 2004. Part of their work focussed on time consistency of economic policy wherein they argued that what matters is not rules and regulations but the perception about credibility and enforceability of these regulations/rules. In other words what they are saying is that it is no use making all those rules and regulations if people at large do not belive that these rules will actually be enforced - they will not change/modify their actions to conform with the changed/new rules/regulations/norms.

And it is the powerful logic above which we have seen being played out time and again - be it illegal construction, illegal slums, tax evasion, licenses etc. In fact this very well typifies the 'chalta hai' attitude that is considered so prevalent amongst we Indians. If 'chalta-hai' does not indicate people's faith that law will not be implemented then what else?

And it is not necessary to have 100% implementation - but what is needed is implementation adequate enough to change people's perceptions. And for that we need to make a start and then make the system fool proof as we go along.

A simple example of how this can operate will help. I use the suburban railway train everyday to commute to office and I have my season ticket for that. But if I have to take a journey not covered by the season ticket (which happens rarely) I normally do not bother taking any ticket and travel without ticket. Why? I simply do not think it is worth my effort standing in the long queue to take the ticket when I see no ticket checker along - anywhere! But if I simply see a ticket checker once in a while or hear from someone that they are seeing ticket checkers nowadays, I perception of things would change and I would think twice before travelling without ticket - for what is at stake is not just the fine and ticket money but also my standing in society. I would find it extremely embarassing caught without ticket in a railway train or station (in front of 100s of people). This is how you bring credibility to your rules and regulations.

And so if we want to get rid of this 'chalta-hai' attitude, then the first thing we have to do is go about enforcing our laws - however old or ridiculous or 'painful' they may be. In some cases changing law may need to go hand in hand with enforcement - but enforcement at any cost cannot be allowed to lag.

It's about time, people are made to pay for their transgressions!

That's it for now...

No comments: