Editorial – Concern Threshold

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The desensitisation level of the average citizen of this state has to be seen to be believed. We are here not just talking about the lack of appropriate concern for the daily dose of bloodshed although the threshold for alarm in this case has been pushed up so high that a few people found shot down has become nothing abnormal or any cause to be disturbed about. Once upon a time one person killed in a motor accident would have been the talk of the town for weeks. Insurgency changed the equation altogether. In the hills the Naga insurrection introduced violence much earlier, and in the valley it became prominent in the early 1980s. But even then, the mayhem at the time had an inherent order and you knew as long as you kept by the unwritten rules, there was little likelihood of your becoming undeserved casualty. It used to be even said of the insurgents at the time with a measure of grudging awe that even people in uniform were safe to go out unarmed if they were accompanied by women and children. Today such ethics have become the biggest casualty. Sensitivity of the nature can at best be reserved for literally crime-free, tradition respecting societies like Sikkim only. All norms of tradition and modern law have been turned upside down in Manipur, and this is a tragedy.
But the heightening sensitivity threshold is not just about the attitude to violence. It is also very much about the receding of the notion of rights other than the most radical ones involving overt threats to life and personal security. Take for instance the manner in which the main approach road to the important health facility of the state, Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, RIMS, has been blocked off for over a year now. Repair works are in progress, but there are no indications whatsoever that this is being done with the urgency demanded. Imagine the inconvenience this would have caused to many emergency patients being rushed to the hospital. Not only patients, think also of the businesses along this stretch of road. A year or so of little or no customer visits would have thrown many of them out of business. Even the better establishment businesses, and thereby with much deeper pockets, would have had to resort to tactics such as opening satellite outlets away from this street to ensure at least a nominal level of profitability to keep afloat. Yet, this deprivation of livelihood or the decimation of business has not been seriously viewed even by the victims as an infringement of rights. Instead these are only seen as unfortunate, but with absolutely no handle or address to register protest legitimately. It is true the development work underway is ultimately for public welfare and all citizens are expected to bear with it. However, these disruptions of normal life cannot be expected to be indefinite in nature as it seems to be in the RIMS road case. Shouldn’t there be a reasonable time line set for the completion of these work and these deadlines strictly kept? It is not like the construction of a public hall being delayed by a year, for unlike this, in the former case, every day of delay is pushing businesses to the brink. It can be expected that many are already on their last legs.
It is time for the government to be more sensitive about these hardship caused to the people because of its own inefficiency in executing these development projects. It is also time for the people thus affected to begin asserting their sense of outrage at unreasonable hardship thrown upon them in the name of these projects. This also implies there must be a mechanism to determine the reasonable time periods for the completion of these projects. Once determined and agreed upon, in the event of any delays, the affected parties must be made entitled to compensations. This burden must be born not always necessarily by the government, but also by the contractors engaged, depending on who is responsible for the delays. Not only is this a matter of ensuring justice to those hurt by the delays, it is also about putting a tangible pressure on those concerned to deliver and ensure pledges are kept. As for the aggrieved parties, let them also know they are not totally powerless to redress their grievances. The Public Interest Litigation, PIL, is one powerful and convenient legal tool they can access. The manner in which the electricity distribution system was made to change gear after one such PILs in recent time is a lesson on citizen pro-activity which can be emulated in such matters too.

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