Two recent developments have caught my eye. One, endowing the tax department with more discretionary powers while making Aadhaar card mandatory to file taxes, the unfair burden of which falls on a small section of the income tax paying population; second, the incorrectly termed anti-Romeo drive in UP which seems to have degenerated into aggressive moral policing and even incarceration of husbands, brothers, fathers, boyfriends and friends. I have a hypothesis, which has only been strengthened by the recent events. And that is as follows: empowering arms of government, whether the police, bureaucracy or IT, without requisite administrative reforms and checks and balances is only asking for trouble.
This is because the agencies of governance are not accustomed, often not allowed to operate efficiently and fairly. As a matter of fact, some state-sponsored services in India seem to function feverishly when there are grey and non-transparent areas of operation. It creates a win-win situation for both parties, the applicant and approver. An example is the brisk issue of driving licenses, many dubious, that provides livelihood to an organised army of touts.
Indians, who otherwise crack a few million jokes on twitter every hour, have been ranked low in happiness, as per a recent survey. Twitter apart, the happy index at any DL issuing authority also has to be very high. No doubt, the UP police, attuned to toeing the line of their political masters, seem to have been caught unawares, when actually ordered to perform for a change. New CM Yogi Adityanath’s anti-Romeo crackdown might have been well-meaning, but the cops who now report to him have bungled it badly, perhaps resulting in an inadvertent emergence of a hyper-feminist utopia and dream-come-true. Men, for a change, have been driven inside their homes for their own safety, rather than women. No man near a woman, in salwar or skirt, can consider himself safe in UP, at least for the time being.
The UP police, meanwhile, stand exposed yet again for failing to be professional which is not surprising given their abiding motto to keep their political bosses, radical or socialist, happy. I am sure CM Adityanath will think twice before ordering his inept police force to perform again. In the same vein, the crack down on illegal slaughterhouses in UP is also a complete sham. Authorities have a vested interest in ensuring the abattoirs remain unlicensed, while also functioning in order to reserve a share of the earnings for themselves. Anywhere in India, a huge complicit political lobby makes sure that businesses, whether it is a street side vendor selling fruits or a factory, stay unauthorised. Arun Jaitley thus needs to be careful.
Transparency in governance can be a double-edged sword that can make the IT department dysfunctional. Try getting a simple TDS error rectified; it will not happen in a hurry due to justice being delivered too visibly; paradoxically, the concerned official fears he can be accused of having a vested interest in doing his job too well.
Hence, he or she is much better off twiddling his thumbs, doing nothing, in order to ensure his next promotion or transfer. Making Aadhaar cards mandatory for filing taxes sounds all very good on paper. But, all scenarios need to be considered.
This is not about matters going right. Major problems can emerge when matters go wrong, like misuse of data stored in an Aadhaar card, potentially making an individual culpable for no fault of his. Nobody will be willing to take responsibility. Duplicates can become subject of unending inter-departmental inquiry unless an aggrieved tweet happens to be noticed by the PMO. The Modi government is in a tearing hurry to show it is pushing the country forward. The process needs to be calibrated and finely balanced. Sweeping changes, such as the recent demonetisation exercise, can be disastrous. India seems to have given Modi the benefit of doubt on notebandi as it is now largely seen as a well-meaning decision that went awry. Modi and Jaitley should not count on being so lucky again.