Doing nothing is a good policy

If the idea behind ‘selective relaxation’ is to enable enterprises to conduct their business, the ‘time-card’ model is a bad policy – a policy that should be scrapped at once.  

Let’s think of a bank for example. Employees who would otherwise commute on a public transport are not going to the bank because their mode of transport is down anyway. Consequently, there is going to be fewer staff, and distancing (among the staff) at the bank is going to be a natural outcome. As for the rest of the employees (who could still commute), they are not going to crowd the bank anymore by signing in at 8 am or 10 am or noon instead of 10 am as the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) thinks they should. All that the time-card now does is lead to a higher congestion on the roads compared to what would have been if these employees were free to report at their office at the time agreed between them and the management. The time-card only creates a bottleneck, which, when photographed, looks like people are taking undue advantage of the selective relaxation. This leads the MTPD to install check-points on the already-congested road which only makes the situation worse.   

Two things to note there – people could still misuse the pass just as they did during the complete lockdown. If it were the case, the congestion is no more due to selective relaxation just as it never was during complete lockdown. And if the bank (in this example) were to force the staffer to walk instead, the time card is just as futile to this law-abiding staffer as an umbrella is to a Kathmanduite when it rains in New York.  

All that the time-card does is make it more difficult for enterprises to go about doing their business as evidenced by the absolutely unnecessary hassles that delivery services (for example) have had to go through. Now that the state has come up with a regulation for service providers, maybe it ought to do the same for service seekers, going by the same logic. Maybe the police has got to monitor the service seekers. Suddenly, not only are we mobilizing security forces wastefully to manage and run people’s lives, we are losing focus on other real things that truly matter.

Regardless, something that warrants a public scrutiny here, irrespective of the intention of the state, is whether these acts are consistent with the spirit of rule of law, and do they treat all citizens as equals? It appears to be commonly accepted that a legislation or an order passed by the government suffices the condition of rule of law. And that is also the very argument that the state uses to justify any of its actions. In other words – or the words of the legislators – the state never violates rule of law. But we also know that these types of interventions invariably create two classes of citizens – the first class which is granted a special privilege (be it in the form of a pass of ‘selective relaxation’ in this case), and the second class which is not. Accepting such a measure as one that fulfils the condition of rule of law is also to be suggesting that rule of law invariably treats different individuals differently. Therefore, not everybody is equal in front of the law. Any citizen who favours such measure (as currently being implemented by the government of Nepal) is therefore effectively accepting the state’s control over their private sphere, and is submitting to the state to manage their lives. While an individual might be perfectly justified to live by this, favouring the state’s current intervention means that that individual is making decision for others as well. 

As regards to helping the economy revive, doing nothing (as regards to controlling mobility) is a perfectly fine policy. 

Now if that proposition has got you thinking, I invite you to read this short essay about how ‘do-nothing governments’ created two economic powerhouses of the world that we know today. 

Featured Image Courtesy:

Akash Shrestha

Akash Shrestha is a researcher at Samriddhi Foundation where his focus areas are investment laws, public enterprises and education.

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