During the period when the UPA was in office, there was a horrendous attack in 2012 on a young woman in a bus in the National Capital Region. As a consequence of the laws in force, one of the perpetrators, who had used a metal rod to commit unspeakable acts, was set freeafter serving some time in a juvenile facility, while the others were subjected to the death penalty. There were two powerful legal minds in the Union Cabinet at the time, P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal, and they worked out a new law that was expected to protect women from male predators in a way that Nirbhaya had not been. This columnist had then warned that in a country where enforcement left much to be desired, harsher laws would not enhance the safety of women. The new and more draconian Sibal-Chidambaram laws have since proved ineffective in controlling vile crimes against women. A recent case is that of a young woman getting hacked, clubbed and kicked to death in full view of both CCTV cameras and spectators.
Whoever was monitoring the camera feed neglected to inform the Delhi Police on time, for they were not around while the crime was being committed and when the perpetrator made a short- lived escape. Onlookers stayed away from seeking to prevent the murder, perhaps because the only way they would have been able to ensure that the assailant was halted would have been to use substantial force to disable him, and in that process, may even have ended his life. The worry of the uninvolved onlookers may have been that in that case, they themselves could be subjected to investigation and court processes that may drag on for years. Not to forget that perhaps they may themselves face accusations by some of “having used excessive force”.
Were the attacker sought to be restrained in a non-violent way, the odds were that he would have turned his knife on whoever was seeking to stop him from brutally killing the girl. More and more such killings of young women are being reported, and there will still be those who believe that the only solution to such crimes are still tougher laws. However, just as the death penalty in the US has not stopped that country from clocking up more murders in a year than the whole of Europe combined, neither will more extreme laws make a dent in such criminal actions. And, in the case of a harsh law, the process itself usually becomes the punishment even of the innocent. Nine out of ten under-trials ought not to even be in prison at all, and yet they are. A court case lasting years can send a family into poverty and despair more effectively than a war or a pandemic does.
Harsher laws are usually made with the best of intentions, but the assumption implicit in them is that those tasked with administering them unfailingly and efficiently implement such laws in the spirt in which they get passed. Such a premise is seldom borne out in practice. More than a few tasked with implementation are less than honest, while others may be less than efficient. Ultimately, empirical evidence shows that errors in implementation, whether accidental or deliberate, do happen. The Real Estate Regulatory Act 2016 (RERA) is an outstanding piece of legislation that has witnessed faultlines in its implementation. In a large southern state, for instance, for nearly three years the RERA board has been functioning under a serving official of the state government, and reports about collusion with builders against the interests of homeowners are multiplying. RERA is as robust an act as the Narcotics Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act 1985. Experience shows that the NDPS Act has been frequently misused as a weapon of vengeance or in the securing of a bribe. There was a recent case when an official implicated and jailed the young son of a celebrity in order to extort money from the parents. The clauses in RERA have been carefully defined, as for instance the clause that promises of time and material used will be kept or else the builder faces a penalty. It may or may not be a surprise that 25 of the 26 state RERA boards are headed by a retired official of Chief Secretary rank, so as to take advantage of the retirement age being 65 in such boards. Housing in India is a field that contains outstanding domain specialists, but domain specialists seem to find little or no place in RERA boards. Several of the apartments certified by such authorities are different
from what the law had intended, but few of the RERA boards seem to notice. A workers’ cess is being levied, but rather than get expended on workers toiling to build apartments, the moneys collected often get used elsewhere. Several RERA boards have shown a lenient approach
towards easily avoidable delays in completion, not to mention apartments made that are contrary to the provisions of the legislation. As for the show-cause notices provided for in the law, there are not infrequent reports of these being withdrawn once there is a “show cash”
instead. As for board members being held accountable for such lapses, these seem to be in low in number and in states, zero even while anomalies that the law was designed to end.
A law is only as good as the way in which it is implemented, and the need is for not just the plethora of laws in the country but the IPC and the CrPC to be reworked . Such a process is taking place in the way history textbooks that devote much, much less than a tenth of the time
detailing nine-tenths of India’s journey through many millennia are. Nine-tenths and more of their teachings are about less than a tenth of the entire history of India. Law and order are central to double digit growth, but there is no getting away from the imperative of ensuring that implementation is as effective as a well-designed law.