Tread with care
Govt should beware not to trample on civil liberties in forming public policy
SEP 21 -
In recent times, the government policies to address pressing issues have often shown a ‘quick fix’ attitude, which on the surface looks like a sound policy approach. That, however, masks the underlying problem. Worse, the government’s overzealous initiatives come dangerously close to encroaching on civil liberties. The latest example is the ban on alcohol sales along the highways. This was done, as has been explained by the Home Secretary (no less) to limit road accidents, which has resulted in more than 3,000 deaths in the past two years alone. Although there is no doubt that road safety is a critical concern, given the alarming upsurge in incidence of road accidents, the policy response leaves one to wonder : what in the world is the thinking behind a whole series of recent bans? The decision taken by the Chief Secretary, the Home Secretary and senior police officials to ban the sale of alcohol along the highways is more a convenient policing than a sound policy decision. For it is likely to affect thousands of small shop-owners, travelers and the growing communities who live near the highways. Is it fair to trample on their freedom to engage in free enterprise and exchange because the government wants to crack down on drunk driving? A far better solution would be to mobilise the highway traffic police to check drunk driving, much like what the traffic police have very successfully enforced in Kathmandu.
This unfortunately is not the only instance where a ban has been imposed to control a growing social concern. Last month, the government forbade women below 30 years from travelling to the Gulf countries for employment. Reason offered: it will protect women from being exploited by unscrupulous masters. The policy, rightly, came under fire from national and international human rights groups for curtailing the freedom of women to seek employment. Here, too, the government rightly diagnosed the disease but made the wrong prescription. The proper response to exploitation of Nepali maids, ideally, would’ve included strengthening protection mechanism to so that Nepali female workers would be more adept at handling themselves overseas.
The disregard for civil liberties and freedom is apparent in everyday matters too. On the day of Teej, the traffic police suddenly decided, without any warning, to close off several roads leading to the Pashupati area so as to “allow celebrating women a larger room.” As a result, thousands of people spent hours trying to get to their destinations, as the sudden stoppage of vehicular movement led to huge traffic jams. Many of the sufferers, we are certain, were women themselves who were trying to get to home early to attend to their families and, possibly, even to celebrate Teej.
What is required is a fresh approach that is mindful that official initiatives do not tread on civil liberties in the name of addressing a public concern. Given the political uncertainty, the government may be tempted to take measures to prove to the people that it is capable of taking muscular actions to tackle social issues. But muscular actions that trample of civil liberties are unbecoming of a democracy.
Posted on: 2012-09-21 08:21