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Our war is with mosquitoes, not between state and citizens

As mosquito-borne pathogens cause innumerable deaths across the nation, mosquito-control, by my count is even more important than the Motor Vehicle Act that we are debating across the nation, as strict enforcement of law is a must to thwart the killer. So, it is/was nice to read about AMC officers visiting locations and slapping fines, as we Indians rarely like to follow rules, however beneficial to us, till we are not punished for violations.

While the news reports had given me theoretical picture, this week I ended up becoming a bystander to one such raid making me observe it as a human interaction on the ground. 

Any rule is easier to draft than implement because when it is applied by one human being to another human being, both sides are constantly posturing, and success of implementation depends on correct behavioural cues, or the entire purpose of the rule can easily be lost.

Every story of Indian rule-enforcement starts with same presumptions. The citizen thinks that the rules are a harassment and hence the enforcing officer is an enemy, while the officer thinks that every citizen is a criminal. So, the interaction always starts with unpleasant aggression because citizen wants to assert power by name dropping or claiming victimhood, while officer wants to display his/her authority. As both sides keep testing waters, the essence of law is lost because law-enforcement gets reduced to two humans bargaining, actually or psychologically, instead of a system in action.

The episode that unfolded before me was on a sprawling construction site almost impossible to keep mosquito-free, and with Indian lethargy towards health and safety rule, it obviously had enough to offer for an officer to act, so it was an open-and-shut case for slapping fine as per the power bestowed upon the officer by the law.

But, what transpired on the ground, I feel is a lesson to learn from for rule-makers that are now making rules for a democratic nation with people more than aware of their rights but officers still trained under the draconian ideas about their authority.

The case was decided in this matter not by the law but by human behaviour. As the contractor aggressively claimed to have not received any prior notice, the officer decided to get offended by the tone and diction and instead of limiting use of power to fining, sealed the site, forcing instant cessation of all construction work where hundreds of labours were in action.   

As she walked away triumphantly leaving behind a disgruntled citizen made to feel the arbitrary power of on-the-spot action, I stood there wondering what good this interaction has served the cause of mosquito control.

I don’t want to go into the jurisprudence of use of last resort without issuance of prior notice as claimed by the contractor, as the matter is too petty for law to waste its time in deciding it, but I want law-makers to look at it as a feedback for designing laws for new India where state and citizens can become partners instead of continuing as mortal enemies.

A far more effective way to control mosquitoes for an AMC team would be to take necessary action and charge the cost plus fine to the errant citizen, or if we don’t plan to fear corruption at every step, be brave and have the mosquito-control outsourced to agencies that can be directed to the site to take action.

We need to understand that mosquito is a deadly enemy of each of us, be it the contractor or the officer, and the goal must be to defeat it. We need rule-making that can’t be reduced to assertion of power by officer or looking for ways to escape from taking efforts by the citizens. 

It is the result that should matter and not blind action by stakeholders towards their personal agendas that have nothing to do with the greater good that a rule is made for. 

 

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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