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Monday, September 25, 2006

Democracy and the Rule of Law

In the past week, there has been violence in the national capital.

The protests organised by local traders against the sealing of the premises of bussinesses operating in residential areas, on an unauthorised basis, turned violent and four people went on to the happy hunting grounds after being shot by the police.

The sealing of unauthorised premises and the pulling down of unauthorised constructions has been going on intermittently in Delhi, as most readers are probably aware, in accordance with the orders of the honourable Supreme Court of India. This has been going on in spite of the fact that the political class and the bureaucracy have tried all that is within their powers, to create impediments. Attempts have been made to change the relevant regulations as well as to bring in fresh legislation at the state level and now the Union Urban Development Minister has declared that his government will consider a special session of Parliament to amend the constitution, so that those who have been breaking the law with impunity for several years can be protected against it.

On the other hand, the government in the state of Punjab has been acquiring agricultural land compulsorily from farmers with small or marginal land holdings. The compensation that the farmers are being paid in return for their source of livelihood is a pittance as compared to the market price of the land.

I believe there have been instances in some other states, as well, where agricultural land has been compulsorily acquired by governments and sold cheap to industrialists.

It has been reported that the chief of Congress (I) has advised the chief ministers of Congress-ruled states to go slow on the land acquisition, probably in view of the negative press that it has led to. Whether the farmers will get justice in the long run, however, remains to be seen.

The contrast is too stark to be missed. Those holding some of the highest offices in the land are eager to find a way to protect the Delhi-based traders against action ordered by the Supreme Court, even if that means changing the very laws that the traders have been breaking for a long time. The high and mighty, though, do not seem to mind snatching land from poor farmers.

I suspect it is simply because the farmers do not have the kind of money that the traders have and which the traders have been using to bribe the politicians and bureaucrats in return for not taking any notice of their illegal activities.

So much so for democracy and the rule of law!

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