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‘Enforcing’ Law


It is bad governance to enact a law that cannot be enforced. It reduces the authority of the government, as even those who are generally law-abiding lose respect for it. This is exemplified in the story of the ancient English King, Canute, who tried to command the waves of the sea. He naturally failed. Unfortunately, this Canute element exists even today among rulers and institutions, who forget that a large part of law enforcement involves understanding of human psychology and public consent. This is one of the reasons why prophets and suchlike spin many a tall tale to obtain a following. Fear and awe are sought to be invoked outside of human agency.

This is often forgotten when firmans such as thou shalt not burst crackers on Diwali, or thou shalt not abuse drugs, etc., are issued. They leave the police looking foolish, unable as they are to enforce the diktat. In the case of the cracker ban, for instance, it ought to have been announced months ago so that those involved in the industry did not invest in production and purchase. Nobody had a clue about what a ‘green’ cracker is, how it is certified and by whom. It may also be noted that the less accountable institutions are to the public, like the NGT, the more they are wont to announce that the waves may not wash upon the shores.

It is tough enough, as it is, for law enforcement agencies to enforce laws that are necessary for even a modicum of civilised and organised functioning. Even in that, raising public awareness is an important part, as also creation of facilities directed at achieving the objective. In the case of safe road use, for instance, there are rules for drivers, standards for vehicles, as also appropriate infrastructure, which are implemented through monitoring and enforcement. Despite that, over 1.5 lakh people die every year in road accidents. Creating awareness in various ways about the dangers of drug abuse has proven the most effective way of preventing it.

In India there is also, unfortunately, a traditional double standard in selecting social evils that need to be corrected. This also creates resistance in those targeted. Laws have to be equally applicable and not just directed at ‘soft’ targets. Those who did avoid bursting crackers were the ones convinced that these caused harm to the environment, animals and humans, not out of fear of penalties. That’s the way to go.