By YASHOVARDHAN AZAD
Democracy suffered a crushing blow in the past few weeks when public servants discharging their duties were assaulted by our elected representatives or their kin in three separate incidents. Thanks to the video footage taken by the bystanders, who were too aloof or scared to even step forward, the events drew attention of the fourth estate – before, expectedly, fading out when more TRP-friendly issues like the World Cup and turmoil within the Congress.
In the first instance, a young BJP MLA brandished a bat against a municipal official for preparing to demolish a condemned and dangerous building, while in Telangana, brother of a TRS MLA thrashed a lady forest officer engaged in afforestation on government land. In the third incident, a young Congress MLA in Maharashtra took upon himself to set things right in his area by catching hold of an NHAI engineer, literally pouring buckets of mud on him in front of his supporters.
The three instances had quite a few things in common. These acts were directed against public servants on official duty and they were assaulted and humiliated in full public view. While none from the public protested, the police and other officers too were on standby mode. All these goons were related to bigger politicians, from whom they drew their strength to indulge in such acts of gundagardi (hooliganism).
Three dangerous trends emerge from such instances. The first is that these goons are elected members of the assemblies and the reputation of these MLAs was well known to the public which elected them. The moot point is whether our system is churning out MPs and MLAs who are supposed to use their experience and wisdom to apply their minds to the bills being debated and passed in the Houses.
The second issue has an even more grim portent for the future. Is the public scared or is it enjoying the tamasha, egging the public representatives on? The worst case scenario is that the common man is so frustrated with the uncaring and unresponsive public officials and with the state machinery that he secretly approves of the lashing given to them by the elected representatives.
In the absence of the innate capacity of the system to react, some public representatives consider themselves CEOs of their areas and dispensers of justice and thus love to take law in their own hands.
During my tenure as the central information commissioner hearing municipal cases, the registry would be flooded with queries on the pick and choose method adopted for demolition. It all depends on at whose behest the action is to be taken and his relative strength vis-a-vis the opposer. So what should the common man do? Unlike yesterday he has a number of platforms today like the social media to vent his ire.
With the impaired capacity of the system to respond, what is most disturbing is to see the police playing a mute spectator. While such incidents being prominently reported by the media indicates a healthy trend, the need to put a stop to them is the imperative need of the hour. The moot question is, will the political parties respond by strict action against the recalcitrant? Most likely not! No one will be expelled from the party but will be let off with warnings.
It is imperative for the central and state governments to seriously ponder over these incidents and not look at them as isolated actions of brash behaviour done in the heat of the moment. A detailed inquiry needs to be conducted into each incident to ascertain the causes and then steps ought to be taken to rectify the deficiencies in the administrative system, ramp up its capacity and bridge the gap between the demand and supply of civic amenities.
To set an example, the police should be directed to respond post-haste in such cases. As a first step, police vacancies nearing 500,000 need to be filled and all the states should be advised to emulate the Maharashtra model in which assault on public servants has been made a sessions trial – a non-bailable offence with a jail term of five years.
The author is a former IPS officer and central information commissioner)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)