Some weeks back, I wrote on the subject of dealing with public unrest http://confused-ambadi.blogspot.com/2011/03/dealing-with-public-unrest.html.
I was disturbed by increasing use of violence as a means for redressal of perceived /real grievances, by various groups across the country. I started by saying that India may not see a jasmine revolution. However, since then India did see something very close to Jasmine revolution (at least in the eyes of some of the Indiana) in Anna Hazare’s movement.
Anna Hazare’s movement did not invoke physical violence, unless we consider hunger strike also a form of violence albeit against one’s own body. Instead, it used the method of moral violence by forcing the government to accept their demands, not on the basis of debates and reasoning but on the basis of a threat of hunger strike till death, knowing very well that the government is not in a position to face that!
Without going into the morality of any form of violence as a means of grievance redressal, I would like to look at causes and possible solutions to the violence itself.
To put it simply, there is a void in public grievance redressal mechanisms that are forcing people to take up violence. There are some executive initiatives such as Directorate of Public Grievances which are very limited in their scope. Taking up issues through elected representatives is also of limited use as these representatives are bound by their party lines and therefore can’t actively take up public’s causes against their party’s stands.
As usual in our system, when nothing else worked, judiciary came up with a solution- the Public Interest Litigations (PIL). PILs proved very effective in the initial stages. However, like many other initiatives, it was not very long before PILs also started being misused by unscrupulous persons to further their narrow agenda. Also, the increasing trend of PILs started taking up time of the higher judiciary, affecting their primary function of deciding disputes.
We need to establish a very credible and effective mechanism to deal with public grievances; something similar to an Ombudsman; with highest level of credibility (the “Authority”). Citizens should be able to bring their grievances that affect public at large authority, at the least cost, and get time bound decisions thereon. This authority should have powers similar to High Courts and their decisions should be appealable only to Supreme Court. The Authority should have the power to call for and receive evidence from any experts in the field of subject matter of the grievance.
Any public actions such as strikes, hartals, satygraha etc on a matter covered by this Authority should be declared illegal and the persons leading/organising such actions must be held responsible for any act or omissions of all the participants thereto, if these acts or omissions violates any laws of the country.
To illustrate with an example, let us take the instance of agitation against the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear station. There is no doubt that the proposed Station is the interest of the nation. There is also no doubt that there are genuine grievances of the villagers who will be displaced for the project and other people at large.
Instead of the current violent methods being used by both the agitators and the State, matter should be referred to the Authority, who should constitute a Bench, to hear the matter on a day to day basis, with the objective of reconciling the conflicting demands of all the parties. The Authority alone should have the right to stop the project till its final orders. Once the Authority gives its orders, (which should be a speaking order) aggrieved parties may appeal to the Supreme Court and subject to the appeal, the order becomes binding on all.
This proposal may seem to be seeking yet another Authority! But I guess we have no option but to have a proper independent and empowered authority to deal with public grievances so that the social and political atmosphere remain peaceful and public issues does not flare up to the level of affecting the human rights of the citizens, including their right to earn livelihood.