(Mis)Rule of Law?

The other day I was driving to my office and stopped over at a road side vendor selling tender coconuts. Picking up a tender coconut on way to office has been my routine for the past one year. I asked for a tender one rich in water and it was duly delivered. I gave him a 100 rupee note and waited for the change. The boy counted 70Rs and was about to hand over the same. Just then a municipality van came along from nowhere and before any of us knew what was happening, six men acted with lightning speed and picked up all the coconuts ( around 200 in number) from the vendor. They dumped them all inside the van and disappeared in a jiffy! Even as this drama was unfolding my driver was insisting to get the change from the boy. The boy stood aghast at what happened and was at a loss for words to respond to my driver. Someone nearby told my driver –  “us ka dil toota hai- vah kaisa paisa vaapas karega” (His heart is broken, how can he respond to you and return the money now!). On my part I was also struck by a combination of shock and sympathy and didn’t say anything. Soon the poor boy composed himself and returned the balance of 70 ruppees. I was about to reprimand my driver for insisting on settling my account. But the boy seemed bent on returning my money and we left.

As I left the place, I felt guilty. Here is a boy whose livelihood depended on the sale of coconuts every day and he lost his entire stock worth over 2000 – 3000 rupees in a few seconds.  Besides its shock value, I am sure this loss will  hit his cash flow badly for the next 2 months. God knows whether he can ever recover from the financial loss and worse still from the mental trauma.

The questions I would like to raise are the following:

Who is at fault- the vendor, the municipal authorities who framed the rules or  the guys implementing the rules.

On the face of it would look as though the municipal authorities & their men are only taking care of the interest of the public. But are they? The answer is an emphatic NO. The fact of the matter is that they act selectively depending on which vendor is paying his bribes religiously and who is defaulting. In fact these bribes are directly contributing to ever- increasing prices of materials by increasing costs of transactions.

What about the vendor? Is he at fault? The answer is a tentative ‘No’.  After all we as customers depend upon these road side vendors as much as they need our business. They are indeed serving an important role in the society. It is an irony that we all blame the road side vendors for encroachment while we depend on them when it suits us. Life is not a zero sum game in the sense that one man’s loss doesn’t exactly equal another man’s gain! We are all (the consumers, the vendors and the law makers) partners in the process of living and we owe each other our survival. If the game is played with fairness everyone can gain and vice versa!.

And finally, am I justified in taking the money back? I think the vendor is not obliged to return the money. My logic is that the vendor didn’t exist legally the moment the men from municipality descended on the scene.  Even morally, we, as buyers, need to share the agony as well as the happiness by virtue of being willing partners in the transaction.

The Municipality may be justified in using existing laws on encroachment. But one wonders whether these laws are fair or equitable? Clearly there is something fundamentally wrong in the way our cities are being planned or developed.

If  the answers to the questions are vague or if we cannot pinpoint the blame squarely on any single person, how come that only one guy suffers? Such is life.

PS1: I went back another day to see if the vendor is back in business. To my surprise, he was very much there at the same spot. I did buy a coconut from him, handed a 100 Rs note and asked him to keep the change. The vendor explained to me that the men from municipality act like this to force the vendors to pay up. This is nothing short of extortion by the rulers!

PS2: If anyone has a different perspective on this, please share.

Published in: on January 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is a common scene on Mumbai streets.Laws are mis- administered by the authorities for extorting benefit for themselves. It is even more unfortunate that common man tolerates this extortion without any protest.

    • may be you are right – but then when you are a party to it or when you witness it in close quarters, you feel sensitized. otherwise it is just another event or a non-event.

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