Return the law
In more ways than one, the whole fracas over the removal — or, as it is increasingly turning out to be, not-quite-removal — of commercial establishments from residential areas in Delhi is symptomatic of what India has become. There’s a law that has been flouted for years with such impunity that the illegality has become the norm. The courts suddenly sit up and get serious about the matter and order the government to put a stop to the rampant lawbreaking. The government makes noises to do the needful but, with so much water having flowed under the bridge, makes half-hearted gestures intended to pacify those ‘influential’ law-breaking citizens. Whether it is about rehabilitation or resettlement programmes or policies pertaining to health, education, etc. the authorities of the State are the ones who, by being in cahoots with lawbreakers, undermine and destroy the very law that they are supposed to uphold.
In the case of the ongoing Delhi dispute, the state Urban Development Ministry issues a notification which entitles the MCD to seal selected shops and establishments, and pussyfoots on the rest. In the process, the message that it has given out to the citizens of Delhi is that law-abiding residents, who have complied to the norms of the Master Plan, are to be ignored, while those who have broken the law are to be officially given a certificate of legal sanctity. The anger of those suddenly being told to pack up their shops and leave is understandable. If government authorities are now sealing illegal shops and establishments, it is, after all the same authoritative body that earlier sanctioned their illegal establishments in exchange for the proverbial chai-pani.
That a law, defunct for years for all purposes, has been activated is welcome. To invoke ‘common practice’ or the sheer number of people who will be affected simply won’t do. If the government keeps playing its game of trying to ease things for lawbreakers, the message given to the rest of the citizenry will be that one is a fool to follow laws. Such a notion has already spread in different spheres where breaking the law or committing a crime is increasingly being seen as something that can easily be ‘legalised’. One doesn’t have to be the Supreme Court to realise that the current drama being enacted by the government vis à vis illegal shops will only breed confusion about whether it is right or wrong to be wrong.