It was a multi-storeyed building in the country’s largest wholesale market. That it had thirteen floors maybe the least of reasons for its now jinxed future. But for a building with 970 shops and losses estimatedd at over 200 crores the real shocker comes from these remarks by Pratim Chatterjee, West Bengal Fire Services Minister that the building was probably illegal.

So what went wrong in Burrabazar in Kolkota ?

While the blame game goes on it is worthwhile to note that it took 50 fire engines, scores of firefighters working for more than 3 days to bring the blaze under control. Despite that you still have no accurate count of the extent of damage with various media reports quoting anywhere from 2500 to 3000 to 4000 and some even 6000 shops as having been gutted.

That the CPI-Mafioso Government in West Bengal has a Fire Services Minister is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with Local Governance in India. Back in 2007 when the Nithari Killings in NOIDA had surfaced Offstumped had argued that centralized bureaucracies are the bane of local civic governance in India. As a result you have this illogical system of First Responders and Local Law Enforcement accountable to a Minister sitting in Kolkota rather than be directly accountable to the local people. It is no surprise that the First Responders and Local Law Enforcement suffer a poor state of readiness, are not held up to any performance benchmarks on response time, have no incentive to upgrade technology or infrastructure and what is worse function at the whims and fancies of bureaucrats and politicians. With the State Secratariats exercising control on Transfers and Appointments even the odd maverick Law Enforcement Officer who attempts to beat the system is denied any incentives and is instead forced to acquiesce to the political party in power

It is time we took back our cities and villages and made local law enforcement and first responders directly accountable to the communities they serve rather than disgruntled MLA in search of a Ministry.  This incident is also a clarion call for Small Businesses that with freedom comes responsibility. Responsibility to transact one’s business based on values, first and foremost of which is to abide by the rule of law.

Closing this post with more on reforming local law enforcement from the Nithari post

A model worth emulating is the American Model of Criminal Justice where Law Enforcement is decentralized. Local Cities and Counties have their own police departments with the top Police Officials directly accountable to the people who reside in those cities and counties through elections. This ensures that locals with a stake in the local community head the police departments and not some unfortunate transferee. This also ensures that the people can directly hold these officials accountable for their performance. Most importantly it also reorients the duty of Law Enforcement to the Local Citizens first and away from VIP security which is where most law enforcement attention seems to go anyways. This does not mean the State Government will completely abdicate law enforcement. There will be areas like highway patrol etc where the State will still have a role but the primary responsibility becomes the City, Village or Taluk or Mandal.  This will do away with the centralized bureaucracy and layers of IGs and DIGs and SPs and make for a lean mean police force. This will also reorient the Home Minister’s job from day to day law enforcement oversight to strategy, policy and planning.

 Originally posted here

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