Shadow over democracy
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Some Implications of Punjab Civil Services (Rationalisation of Certain Conditions of Services) Act 2011
Shadow over democracy
By Rajesh Kumar Sharma
As I adjust the keyboard this Sunday morning to write on some recent legislation in Punjab, the flutter of newspapers crashing like blinded bats into the porch prompts me to go out and collect their scattered pages. Glancing over the headlines, the eyes pause over Punjabi Tribune. ‘Treasury pays Rs 3.14 crores for the treatment of CM’s Wife’ – the headline is blabbering morosely.
Not a week ago the paper had carried the news that the state government had exempted King’s XI from payment of Rs 2 crores worth of taxes. On another page the same day it reported the enactment of the Punjab Civil Services (Rationalisation of Certain Conditions of Services) Act 2011. I visited the state government’s website to see if I could read the text of the Act. I was disappointed. When the Punjab Special Security Group Act 2010 and the Punjab (Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property) Act 2010 were enacted some months back, I had to ask people online to send texts of the two Acts. Someone had then scanned the pages and emailed them.
Why do people not have easy access to legislation? Why is proposed legislation shrouded in secrecy? Has the government lost confidence in the people? Are we still a democracy? I am sure everyone in the government needs a course in the Constitution of India, though I cannot say if the education will safeguard the Constitution or contribute to its further subversion.
If you take a look at what the press has been reporting about the Punjab Civil Services (Rationalisation of Certain Conditions of Services) Act 2011, you will agree that the Act has been titled rather badly. It actually deserves to be called the Punjab Restoration of Slavery Act 2011.
The Act splits its employees into a hierarchy that is medieval and colonial to say the least and consigns the Right to Equality to a shredder installed in some cunning bureaucrat’s office. How can you, under the present Constitution of India which is still not suspended, treat some employees with that raw discrimination? Why not apply the same rules to all? Are IAS and PCS employees not employees? Will the government look up the meaning of ‘employee’ in the previous Acts? Clearly, there is an attempt to divide the people into the rulers and the ruled, with the bureaucracy being confidentially co-opted, through a legislative delusion, by self-styled rulers.
The Act does not stop at dividing the people but goes on to assault the very dignity of everyone who hopes to be employed by the state in future (but with immediate effect!). For three years, extendable to five at the perverse whim of your boss, you will slave without equal salary, without any allowances that are actually not gifts of charity but your lawful claims, and without any security. This period of your life and work will not count towards your promotions; you will earn no increments for it; your rights to leave of various kinds shall also stand truncated. In other words, in the eyes of the government you will not have existed for any good during these years. By the time the years pass, the government hopes to have accomplished what the slave owners of old could not: broken you in like horses to pull the chariots of the princes. You will have forgotten what it means to stand up for your rights and demand justice. You will have erased the sign of interrogation from your memory and ethical consciousness.
The government knows it has the support of enormously subtle machinery of corporate media to aid you in the process of forgetting. And it understands that words like ‘rationalisation’ can persuade you, against your deepest gut feeling, to submit with a smile of incomprehension to the government’s ‘better reason’. If this is reason in its monstrous economic avatar today, what kind of reason then explains the government’s mindless splurging from public exchequer? They tell us every time someone points this out that they have followed the rules. When reason follows rules without the rules following reason, does it not say something about the state of democracy and its future? Particularly when rules and laws are secretively framed, not subjected to popular debate even where evidently necessary, and passed in what seems to be apathy at best and torpor at worst? The truth is that economic ‘rationalisation’ is only a fig leaf to cover up the encroachment of democratic spaces and to erase the traces of rape of people’s sense of self-respect and dignity.
So much for Punjabiyat and Bharatiyata and their sworn guardians.