Tuesday, 21 February 2017


Legacies and way of life

Legacies shape life and therefore creating legacies is a serious enterprise especially in the public sphere. This truism is no better illustrated than in an article in a London journal some time ago on how bureaucracies live on forever and that a precedent set by any bureaucracy can change influence lives for generations. By bureaucracy we of course do not mean only that part of a government constituting of civil servants, but the entire government structure, the legislative, judiciary and executive combined. The article in question explains how even the fashioning of NASA’s most advanced rocket propelled spacecrafts today contain in them the legacy of Imperial Rome of 2000 years ago. To briefly run through the crux of the article, it is basically an explanation of how the railway tracks in the United States of America came to be exactly of 4 feet 8.5 inches wide. The figure is odd and the natural question is, how could anybody have thought of this strange width and not anything else, especially when there is no scientific reason why the width of the two parallel rail lines had to be exactly 4 feet 8.5 inches apart?

The answer is this is because the British railways used the same width, and the US railway was built by British expatriates. One supposes at this point the same can be said of the Indian railways, as it was also built by the British while India was still Britain’s colony. But why would the British use this same strange measurement it may be asked. The answer is the British railway is a successor of the trams which ran on similarly spread tracks. But why would these tram line be spaced thus? Because they were built by the people who built wagons for transport vehicles that plied England’s old trunk roads which had that spacing. Why so? Because the old trunk roads were furrowed at that spacing and any attempt to build wagons with wheels differently spaced than the rut on the roads, would run the risk of breaking prematurely. What made the ruts on these roads so precisely spaced thus? Because these roads were built by Imperial Rome to move their legions, and the ruts on the road were originally made by the wheels of Roman chariots which were spaced similarly. Why then were the Roman chariot wheels spaced in the manner? Because they used two horses to pull these chariots, and the wheels were spaced to accommodate the hinds of two horses. The article argues, and quite convincingly too, that even the rocket design of the NASA has this ancient Rome signature, as they had to be transported by trains which ran on these tracks and these trains ran through tunnels that also was measured to accommodate their width. If the rockets were any larger, they would not have been able to pass through these tunnels. Hence, a technology borne out of the need of the time of Imperial Rome 2000 years ago, continues to influence modern infrastructure, and indeed minds.

The lesson is, precedents set by any government have the nasty habit of living on, sometimes ad nauseam. A closer examination of many of Manipur’s problems would bear the same hallmark. Take the case of the part-time lecturers’ issue that once burned. They were employed on part time contract and their services should have ended without much ado when their employment contract expired. But for reasons not explained, though it is anybody’s guess, many were regularized arbitrarily by a particular government. Now, since a precedent has been set, all other contract employees, not just part time lecturers, have come to believe, and with a degree of legitimacy given by default of the government’s own acts, that it is their right to be absorbed as regular employees unconditionally regardless of what their original letters of employment said. In other cases, department heads and ministerial authorities have been known to deliberately bend recruitment rules not for any credible reasons, but to accommodate relatives and cronies. Layers after layers of these willful suspensions of rules have today come to virtually nullified all norms. Seemingly, even the courts are in a bind as to how this labyrinth of bad precedents set by the government through the decades can be negotiated. For indeed the practice of law itself, to a great extent, is about charting out the way ahead on the guidelines provided by past precedents. The challenge as we see it is in two parts. The first of these is to undo the stranglehold bad precedents have had on policy making. Let those who enter by the back door, be made to exit by the same door. The second is to usher in a new dawn of good precedents which can be genuine torch bearers for future policy making.

9-Jan-2017 / IFP Editorials / 0 Comments


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