Governance requires enforcement of the laws that exist, even before enacting new ones. This becomes all the more relevant in areas where lives and property are under threat. There have to be reasons why there is laxity in enforcing the laws. In India, we know it to be a gradual process of erosion to the point where there is almost total lawlessness.
Whether it is a bus that goes off a hill road killing several persons, or a dacoity that results in innocent deaths, there are lapses in everyday procedures that make such things possible. Administrative machinery that fails to take the measures to ensure the agencies responsible for preventive action do so to the level required, clearly needs an overhaul.
There are primarily two reasons why regulators allow irregularities in functioning. One, because they are overwhelmed by the scale of the work. In a highly populated country like India, this is very much a reality. The resources allocated – financial or human – are never enough to deal with the problem. Then, there is corruption. Instead of applying energy to combating a problem, a defeated administration then makes the best of a bad situation by personally profiting from it. The decline is so gradual that people fail to notice even the finest of institutions succumb to these negative factors. At one time, the involvement of IAS officers in any process was a guarantee of functional probity. Today, it merely means the ‘costs’ will go up.
Governance requires that people have an idea of how things should be – not in terms of Utopian thought, but as mandated by the existing law. The first task of those who desire an improvement in conditions is to disseminate this information. The parameters for fitness of vehicles that may ply in the hills should be known to passengers. So many hill people, for instance, are not aware of what are essentially their consumer rights. The most obvious violation of the law, overloading, has become the norm, with even the cops turning a blind eye. Even the hill drivers remain unconcerned about the fundamental courtesies to be observed for their own safety. Nothing would impose discipline on the roads better than a self-imposed set of rules. All it requires is they be sensitised regularly in an intelligent way to the dangers, as well as the statistics related to safe driving.
The bus or truck owner should find it cheaper to maintain the fitness of the vehicle than pay off the cop or the fine. That is the principle applied in all law-abiding countries.
The same goes for general law enforcement. If the standard operating procedures are laid down for the cops for every crime, with a carefully prepared checklist requiring to be meticulously filled in, not only would their work become easier, it would ensure better collection of data and evidence for further action as well as monitoring.
Human resource constraints and lack of motivation can be overcome by innovative leadership. This must come from the political and high-level bureaucratic bosses. If it doesn’t exist, the people must insist on change.