Respecting Public Property

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The newly spruced up roads in Imphal East which led to the Hatta Kangjeibung where the Sangai Festival was held in November last year, are now suffering from atrocious abuses again. At several places, including two at the Minuthong-Lamlong stretch, narrow trenches have been dug across the asphalt toppings. It is not sure who did this, for it could be private residents who want to access water pipelines across the roads, or else different government agencies to lay underground cables or pipelines. Either way it shows how very badly managed the whole affair is, and also how disrespectful the public is of public property. All these come as despairing, especially because Singapore is fresh in mind again with a deluge of articles on the city-nation`™s trials and tribulations in its founding and making, in the wake of the death of its founding father, the iconic Lee Kuan Yew, at the ripe old age of 91, just two weeks after Singapore turned 50. Singapore, it will be recalled was thrown out of the then Malayasian Federation in 1965, ostensibly to teach this tiny city, then of 1.6 million people, a lesson in humility of dependency. But Singapore, which has absolutely no natural resources to boast of, and not even fresh water for drinking, even though thrown into an existential crisis refused to cow down, and under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, its population of largely Chinese, Malayan and Indian immigrants, held its integrity together, not only to survive, but to become a flourishing city-State, now of about five million people, with one of the highest per capita incomes in the entire world. It is said, in 1967, Singapore`™s per capita income was 500 dollars a year, or about Rs. 85 a day, to its current 55,000 dollars a year, or about Rs. 9,470 a day. Lee Kuan Yew had a few guidelines he said he followed to this stellar path of success. He insisted on meritocracy alone, where the best jobs went to only the most meritorious therefore encouraging enterprise, diligence and industry. He also had absolutely no tolerance of corruption at the official or private levels, therefore making everybody, from the top to the bottom live by the country`™s tough rule of law regime. No negative or positive discrimination, no graded government privileges regardless of ethnic or religious affiliations. Chinese, Indians and Malayan, all were absolutely equal before the law, and the only ladder to higher social hierarchy was hard work. Under Lee Kuan Yew, the country also followed a rigorous social engineering project to ensure the emergence of a Singaporean identity so that Singapore`™s Chinese, Malayan and Indian felt they were Singaporean and not Chinese, Malayan or Indian. Housing projects encouraged them to live as neighbours, and segregation was discouraged. Amongst the many values inculcated and internalised amongst the public in due course of time is a remarkable respect for public properties. Nobody litters in public spaces just as they would not in their drawing rooms or bedrooms. The law is also strict on the matter. If you drive a car in Singapore and you ram into a lamp post and damage it, if an inquiry determines the accident is a result of rash driving, you will have to pay for the lamp post damaged.

Just a comparison of the attitude to public property would give us a sense of how everything is going the wrong way in Manipur. One day the government makes a road, and the next day, without a modicum of fear of law or guilt at the thought of the inconveniences that would be caused to fellow citizens, anybody can come out and dig a trench across the road to access a water pipeline or whatever. This can also be between government departments. One day the PWD lays a road, the next day the PHED digs it up to lay water pipelines, or the telecom department to lay communication cables. The picture is of a person whose one hand does not know what his other hand is doing, or routinely puts his best foot forward as a showpiece and then shoots it himself. Even before it is able to think of a game plan to tackle corruption, or evolve a social engineering strategy to bring its communities together, let the government resolve the relatively easier issue of inculcating respect for public property. Let there be tough penalties of fines and imprisonment for destroying public properties. Let its department also evolve a way to coordinate while drawing up their individual plans and strategies in the discharges of their different responsibilities.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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