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Business as usual

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A meeting was held on 28 April by the district magistrate of Dehradun with various ‘sections’ of society to discuss ways and means of bringing down sound pollution in the city. This was done at the behest of the Uttarakhand High Court.
There is so much talk nowadays of judicial overreach, etc., but if things have come to a pass where even simple duties such as this have to be enforced only by going to court, what else can the courts do? At this rate, the time can conceivably come when people may have to appeal to the HC to order officials to attend office, because nobody else does. It is only natural that the already over-burdened courts end up with an enormous backlog of cases involving criminal and civil litigation.
What else can we go to court for about which the administration remains unconcerned – the conditions at the Collectorate? In spite of a large space available over the foreseeable future to park cars in the demolished area of the former district jail, people insist on clogging up every part of the Collectorate as well as the Haridwar Road. Is it beyond the powers of the District Magistrate to order the area to be cleared of such vehicles and to make long terms plans about proper parking? This is in case the government continues to dither on shifting the Collectorate to a more spacious and accessible place.
Many moons ago, the Garhwal Post had done a story on how the sub-registrar’s office in the Collectorate was a fire-trap and received assurances from all concerned that new accommodation was being found, but nothing has happened. Apart from the fact that many lives would be endangered were a fire to break out, particularly as the generator full of diesel is next to the one narrow entrance to the office, it also must not be forgotten that the place contains very precious records, which if destroyed or damaged could lead to absolute chaos in the already scam-ridden world of the property market in the state.
This paralysis of initiative is not surprising in a system where the District Magistrate is supposed to do almost everything, with even the pettiest responsibilities requiring his signature and personal attention. There is very little delegation of responsibilities simply because the establishment does not seem to believe any other official has the necessary integrity to perform tasks impartially or honestly.
Such dereliction of duty is not the case with the district administration, alone. People have had to go to court to get the Nagar Nigam to implement its own policies on hoardings and encroachments. Even then, the illegally placed hoardings continue to proliferate. Land grab has become an industry with the complicity of all, with the government remaining unconcerned even though this has become one of the major reasons for the drop in investment in the state. (Security of land and property is a major concern for any investor, apart from ease of setting up and doing business.)
There is also the law on defacement of public property; the responsibility of the state authorities to provide civic amenities; long established laws on display of food items, location of meat and poultry shops and their maintenance; etc. Violation of all these and a plethora of other regulations has become accepted practice; it is even possible that officials are unaware of most of the laws and their duties regarding their implementation.
The first step in the abandonment of these laws is when small functionaries begin to accept payments to overlook the transgressions. Later, they forget which laws were being transgressed in the first place and money is only taken because it has become tradition. It would be interesting to ask the young recruits at thanas and chowkis being initiated into the ‘collection’ game why they are doing so in the first place. They probably wouldn’t have a clue. Since it is ‘tradition’, they cannot even have a guilty conscience about accepting payment for not doing their duty. Things can’t get much worse than that. No wonder, therefore, the higher courts are being approached to reinvent the wheel.
Do not be too surprised that having carried out the formality of ‘discussing’ the noise pollution issue with representatives of the public, the district administration goes back to ‘normal’ and the loudspeakers continue to assault the senses of an already stressed out populace.