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Whose accountability?

The Tripura episode and subsequent apology of the DM offers certain lessons for people, bureaucrats and the government

Whose accountability?
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For the past few days, the tiny little state of Tripura is hogging the limelight. A video clip of District Magistrate of West Tripura, Mr Shailesh Yadav, is being circulated on social media. As of April 29, the daily surge of corona cases in the country has touched 3.79 lakhs and more than 3,600 deaths have ocurred. Ever since the lockdown was imposed last year, we have been reading about people not following the protocols for control of the spread of coronavirus. The frontline warriors are fighting day in and day out in hospitals treating the people affected; many even lost their lives helping others. Similar has been the case with police and other administrative institutions. The new India specific strain is highly contagious and unless the chain of its transmission is broken, it would continue causing havoc. So in a desperate situation, we need to have desperate solutions.

The high handedness attributed to the DM is because of him raiding a marriage ceremony going on with a large number of people in a banquet hall run by a prominent citizen of Agartala. In the video, we can see him upbraiding the officer in charge of the local police station and dragging the priest and admonishing the others attending the ceremony. He was harsh and could have handled the situation firmly yet with equanimity and take legal actions against the violators of the night curfew. After a big hue and cry, the local Member of Parliament went there and met the affected people and tendered an apology on behalf of the state government. The District Magistrate had tendered his apology and released a video of the same and said that he did not mean to hurt the people. Despite the apology, some ruling party MLAs have written a letter to the state Chief Secretary seeking his removal and suspension. Former Chief Minister, Manik Sarkar, also criticised the action of the DM. The Chief Secretary is said to have announced a two-member committee of IAS officers on the matter.

Now it is a 'Catch-22' situation for the state government and Chief Minister Biplab Deb. On one hand, his party colleagues are baying for the removal of Mr Yadav for his alleged manhandling the people, on the other hand, a message would go to the state government's honest officers that they have to tolerate all kind of violation of the state's orders which they are supposed to implement. This incident also raises a point of how law enforcement can be ensured when the people blatantly have disdain for the government orders at the time of such emergency in the country. The Prime Minister, for smooth functioning of administration during covid times, had decided to make DMs and SPs responsible for the enforcement of government orders. In this video, several people belonging to the upper strata of the society could be seen arguing despite knowing that marriage parties can act as super spreaders. Like in election rallies, the grave crisis had gone for a toss. The way our political masters are behaving encourages a layman to behave the way they were in this scenario. Some after seeing the rallies even went on to question the mere existence of the virus. That's how badly we are hit!

In our country, it has become a habit to ignore the law, especially by the anti-social elements. For instance, in Delhi, some were openly selling water in the empty bottles of Remdesivir in the name of this anti-viral injection. One Dinesh had sold one of this writer's acquaintances one dose for Rs 40,000 for a patient in St Stephen's Hospital on April 24. In Noida, hospitals were found indulging in several unethical practices. One of the reasons for such incidents is the deteriorating law enforcements and political one-upmanship in support of such activities.

It has become a trend for the people to blame the government for any small failure but they fail to understand that they are also equally accountable for all kinds of wrongs happening in society. The government is made by the people, from the same society and the unruly behaviours of the public, as well as officials, are reflections of our culture. In this particular case of the Tripura incident, the DM, upon receiving information on Covid-19 protocol violations of the night curfew, went to see for himself. The moot question that arises is why the law enforcement authorities in the field have, in the first place, allowed the people to freely breach the night curfew? The young collector, for sure, should have behaved with composure but by his abrasive behaviour has sullied the excellent work he was doing by taking extra pain in raiding the areas of large gatherings. This is also a fact that a large section of people has been taking government authorities very lightly and unless the officers are rude to them, they do not bother to listen to them. This episode has lessons for the government, the officer concerned and the people at large. The government officers in the field must learn that the good work done by them will go waste and may even be counterproductive if they are not restrained in their disposition in public. For the people, the lesson is to abide by the law. The aggressive behaviour is the reflection of the exasperation of an honest officer and frustrating fatigue due to lack of success in enforcing the curbs. With the apology tendered by the officer, the matter should be closed as a good lesson is being learnt — accountability for enforcement of the law is to be shared by all citizens.

Views expressed are personal

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