Editorial – Citizen Vigil

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There is a very unfortunate misconception in Manipur about the duty of a citizen with regards to law keeping. This is about the act of reporting by ordinary citizens to law keeping authorities of unusual events they witness which may constitute a breach of law. Rather than consider this attitude as an obligation, ordinary citizens often treated this as sneaking. Perhaps this is a reflection of the respect the people by and large have of the law, all the same this must not result in what the popular adage says, throwing the baby away with the bath water. For the truth is, every citizen must realise the responsibility he or she has to shoulder in the enterprise of law keeping. What may be necessary is, as in countries like the USA, to make this responsibility obligatory by law. That is to say, not reporting a potential crime, especially those which will not result in personal safety compromised, should be made a cognizable offence under the law.
In a lawless and violence ridden place like Manipur, this argument would need some qualification. Ordinary citizens cannot be expected to report on the movement of armed combatants of the raging insurgency in the land. For one thing this would amount to putting their own lives in danger, and for another, insurgency is no ordinary crime and as so many have articulated in the past, it is in many ways a radical expression of dissent, and its solution would have to be nuanced, rather than the usual linear policing crime fighting approach. However leaving this issue for the government to tackle imaginatively but firmly, there are so many other cognizable breaches of law by ordinary citizens which other more conscientious citizens must take it upon themselves to prevent through the invocation of the law using the simple handles available to them. The simplest of these is reporting these matters to the police or other concerned authorities. To take just a few examples, in the past one month, the entire state has been somewhat shaken awake by the aggressive campaign of the government to clean up illegal power connections in the Imphal area. All these illegal activities were happening right under the noses of every citizen, in particular those who have been honestly paying the taxes for whatever amount of power they consume.
Yet in all this while, there has never been even a single report of putative breach of law from any citizen. This is despite the fact that these thefts are from the common pool of service resources and thereby robbing from it by anybody would amount to robbing from everybody, in particular the honest consumers. Thankfully, at least in the case of electricity, there has been a public interest litigation, PIL, which is in a way a last resort in the absence of a citizen vigil which should have been always present. The despairing fact about Manipur is, electricity is just one case of neglect of citizen duty, for there are plenty more. Water supply is another very prominent one. Today, if a survey were to be done, half of Imphal households would be tapping piped municipal water illegally, and in manners not prescribed, making siphon holes larger than allowed, thus depriving other consumers of their shares of potable water. Yet again, as in the case of electricity, everybody witnesses this but apart from a bitter frown here and there, nobody has thought it his duty to complain that he is being robbed in broad daylight.
Having said this, the blame for this confounding reluctance of the citizens to keep vigil of public utilities, and also against other similar crimes, must also go to the government, in particular the police. There have been far too complaints of policemen on duty refusing to take notice of complaints by citizens. Instead, such whistle blowers often end up more harangued for they are looked upon by the police with suspicion and the onus of proving their complaints thrown back at them. The time has come for a radical change of attitude both of the police as well as the citizens. If they must work hand in hand, they must both be sensitized as well as made to realise what wonders they can do by cooperating with each other towards improving everybody’s everyday quality of life.
 

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