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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 21, May 25, 2024

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, May 25, 2024

Saturday 25 May 2024


Erosion of established procedure, contempt for rules is endangering safety of our democracy and society

Our municipal systems lack oversight, building safety norms are violated, there is contamination in medicines, adulteration in spices, workplace safety is seriously wanting, lack of transparency in Govt agencies that refuse to reveal information despite the provision for a right to Information, rules are routinely flouted at all levels. As we approached the end of this week news came of a boiler blast and fire resulting in deaths at a Dombivili Chemical factory in Maharashtra [1], Hundreds of factory fires happen every year but fire safety is not taken seriously, a week earlier all hell broke loose in a part of Bombay when a gigantic public hoarding weighing some 250 tons collapsed on top of a Petrol pump, crushing people in their cars, Illegal hoardings with no proper permissions dot our cities and the roads bypassing the rules, a few weeks earlier news came of a building collapse in Calcutta in West Bengal [2] Nearly half of New Delhi’s built environment is risky, multi-storied constructions with no architectural plans, masons do the building & people willing to pay. All this is routine and goes beyond non-compliance of building bylaws, lack of safety, the breach of rules is all over. Exam papers get leaked every year in many parts of the country, closely related is the whole cottage industry that can write you term papers, articles & thesis; not to speak of fake university degrees…. And the story just goes on. On May 22, the Justice Juvenile Board in Pune cancelled the bail hurriedly granted to an affluent man’s 17-year-old son, who allegedly killed two people when his car crashed into them. When there was public outcry over the loosening of rules for a rich brat, the bail was cancelled [3] India is in the midst of a General election and the top constitutional body the Election commission of India has been dragging its feet holding people to account for violations of the model code of conduct; It is refusing to upload on its website voter numbers data for each polling booth and thereby flouting its own rules [4] Election commission (EC) says that once such data is uploaded it will be susceptible to mischief, and abuse, tells the Supreme Court [5] [6]. The Aam Adami Party that emanated out of an anti-corruption movement had pushed for a dangerous Orwelling anti-corruption law that luckily never saw the light of the day but the governments it ran in Delhi & later in Punjab spent hundreds of millions from the taxpayers’ money in advertising for tom tomming its government’s achievements [7]. They have been outspent in this ugly game by India’s ruling BJP. The central Government department called the Central Bureau of Communication which is meant to promote Government schemes, has been found spending millions on Google Ads where the advertisements promote the ruling BJP’s election slogans [8] There is a food safety standards authority but its capacity to regulate and inspect are in question —recently Indian spices exported abroad, have been found containing harmful chemicals. [9] And the list goes on. Drug authorities have uncovered entities that sell spurious drugs [10] We already know of the scandal concerning the poisonous cough syrups exported from India by certain drug manufacturers and lack of vigilance by the drugs regulator. This also came out from the recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the fake claims of cure made by the manufacturer of Ayurvedic drugs. We badly need accountability & oversight to counter corruption and complacency in our governance structures at all levels. There is no authoritarian quick fix, we need a long sustained effort to build a new culture for collective safety and public interest and fix our broken systems. A certain number of civil society accountability activists have shown the path, let such efforts grow and multiply.

May 24, 2024 —HK

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