Monday, September 26, 2011

Umesh Pandey was murdered by bad policy

A toll-booth attendant was murdered in Gurgaon, near Delhi, on the night of September 22nd.

The apparent murderer, Vijayveer Yadav was an unemployed youth from the village of Kho, near Manesar. According to the Times of India, "cops said Yadav flew into a rage when the victim - toll booth attendant Umesh Kant Pandey - asked for the original registration certificate (RC) of the Bolero (vehicle) for letting him pass without paying toll, as was the practice for local vehicles. Yadav had just a photocopy of his driving licence".

The list of those exempt from paying toll on such highways is quite substantial, and includes the usual suspects - Chief Ministers and Ministers, Governors and judges, government officials on duty; all those who are paid from our taxes. Strangely, Robert Vadra is not specified as being exempt, as he is in the case of security checks at our airports!

Looking at the list as I drive to Uttarakhand or Jaipur, I have often idly wondered whether government officials on such drives are ever off-duty. I was not, however, aware of the exemption for those living in neighbouring villages; perhaps this was some kind of "enlightened" gesture for the toll road operator to generate local support for the project.

Clearly, the move back-fired. OK, morbid pun. But exemptions are usually bad ideas. They lead to contention about who qualifies and who doesn't; create incentives to forge documents and misrepresent antecedents, and vitiate the creation of an environment where all are equal before the law.

Two particularly egregious examples of  'special treatment' come to mind - the reservations of college seats for students belonging to certain castes, which led to the Mandal riots, and some particularly gruesome protest deaths; and the subsidy for kerosene, which has led to widespread adulteration of diesel, and the murder of at least two individuals brave enough to investigate the fradulent practices that most of us accept.

"Special treatment" is a manifestation of weak administration, which seeks the path of least resistance and most votes. Short-term measures create trouble in the long run, of which the death of Umesh Pandey is an extreme and heart-rending manifestation.

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