Most often when folks from the media (or elsewhere) see a situation where the outcomes are not ideal, the most convenient conclusion or suggestion offered is the need for legislation. Few days ago I read a feature on a very popular magazine about living-in relationships in Nepal and why there is a need for a legislation to address the situation. The feature had case studies of women who were ‘lulled’ into a living-in relationship by being promised a marriage down the line and were physically abused while in the relationship. So the article argued that to address this injustice, a new legislation on living-in relationship was required. There is no doubt that the physical abuse of a human being is completely unacceptable but does it really require a separate law if a woman in a living-in relationship is abused? How is it different than a single, married, divorced or a woman of any civil status being abused? If these women are not being able to get justice in the present system, how will women in ‘living-in’ relationships get justice through the introduction a new law merely?
Fact is, we have grown to be a legislation loving society and sadly, it is doing us more harm than good. We are beginning to think that legislating something is a ready-made fix to most problems without paying much heed to who is benefiting at whose cost. Here are few examples:
Problem: Too many private schools in Kathmandu
Solution: Nepal government legislated that new schools cannot be registered anymore
Who benefits: Already existing schools. They have successfully stopped competition and can have a captive market.
Who pays: Parents pay more for mediocre education.
Problem: Private schools not providing quality education
Solution: Nepal government legislated that the schools have to meet a long list of requirements to ensure quality (from the number of bathrooms, to minimum number of students to size of desks and every possible detail)
Who benefits: Already existing big schools, who meet those requirement already.
Who pays: Poor parents, who want to send their children to low-cost private schools, are not able to do so because there is no way their neighborhood’s “ghar najikaiko” school is able to meet those requirements. Sadly, they will have to send their children to a public school or just cut down on their meals to afford a ‘quality’ private school.
Problem: Too many vehicles (taxis and public vehicles) in Kathmandu
Solution: Nepal government legislated no new registration of taxis and no new route permits to be given in a number of routes
Who benefits: Taxi syndicate, public vehicle syndicate in that route
Who loses: Consumers again, who pay a lot to ride on a cab with unpredictable fares and engine conditions or put themselves through the pain of riding in a public vehicle in Nepal
These are just a few examples among many around us where legislation have led us to far worse outcomes than the ones it set out to address. Truth is, we want infinite number of good outcomes for our society – quality education, health, better living standards and so much more. But these things do not just grow on a tree if we come up with legislation. They have to be created and have to be paid for, by someone. Do we want to earn and pay for what we need or desire or want to look at another person’s pocket to do get there? The tricky thing with legislation is that, it can be easily used as a means to plunder, as we have seen in several instances. How can we ask more of something that benefits a small (special interest) group at the expense of the larger group through the use of law (which is basically force)? If the trend continues, we will not be a society that adheres to Rule of Law but the one where there is Rule by law and the interchange of those two lettered words in those phrases will determine if we live in a just and forward looking society.