Society

Crime And Punishment

If you choose to punish the folk who own the partially or totally illegal assets, then you must remember that the structural illegalities were achieved through bribing.

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Crime And Punishment
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Quintessentially, some of Delhi’s mostvocal citizens are a rather lawless lot. It is part of the staple diet of theirversion of capital speak to be able to silence any attempt at routine lawenforcement. This is perhaps why large parts of the capital are completelybaffled by the speed and alacrity with which the current demolition driveagainst blatantly illegal constructions proceeded.

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The chattering classes may be aghast and agitated, but remember that thebulldozers have actually affected the lives of thousands of nameless ordinarycitizens, mute spectators of a process they feel helpless to control.

The poor believe today that unless the root of the problem is eliminated, theyare simply going to be victims of more harassment in the future. Petty municipalofficials will threaten to put their properties on demolition lists; bribes toget any kind of certificate will go up and insecurity will forever hang overtheir heads.

Therefore, the political repercussions for the current government in power inDelhi on account of the way the demolition’s saga will play itself out, aresignificant. If the current, unhappy and tentative truce prevails, the party inpower will not have a ghost of a chance of returning for the next 10 years.There is, however, a rather easy, transparent, obvious and immediatelyactionable solution. If implemented correctly, it could not only set the newstandard for public governance levels but also become the gold standard for asystemic crackdown on corruption elsewhere.

Given that despite a maelstrom of protest, the Municipal Corporation of Delhihas put up on the Web a list of 18,000 houses that have violated building normsand bear the mark of the Angel of Demolition, the next step is also logical. TheMCD now merely has to add one more set of columns and detail the names ofofficials responsible for the buildings in question, the semblance of sanctionswherever given, whose turf this was on, and who they were being supervised by.

Demolitions and jail terms must then go hand-in-hand. We estimate about Rs20,000 crore in illegally constructed assets are today facing the sledgehammer.A significant portion of this has been passed on to MCD officials and to theirpolitical patrons to ensure that everybody in charge stays in charge and keepstheir eyes and mouths shut. 

So, what’s the solution? Simple. If you choose to punish the folk who own thepartially or totally illegal assets, then you must remember that the structuralillegalities were achieved through bribing. So, it’s at least equallyimportant to punish the gatekeepers.

We’ve been through paroxysms of virtuous indignation before. However, thistime around Delhi has a fighting chance of getting rid of the cancer within ifthe political leadership and an activist judiciary ensure that everybodyindicted is dealt with according to the law. So, the lists of those who aretrooped off to jail must include extremely powerful and senior bureaucrats. And[good heavens can we ever expect this utopia?] central and state politicians whoprotected them in gaol, alongside. 

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This article originally appeared in Delhi City Limits, February 15,2006

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