Although India has been supposedly “liberalized” for over 15 years now, the new reality does not

seem to have percolated down to our politicians and our labour courts. A minor news report, published on Sunday, provides one more illustration of this. The report states that the Maharashtra Home Department has asked public prosecutors to withdraw judicial proceedings against four Air Traffic Controllers (ATC), who had been charged with dereliction of duty and endangering the lives of members of the public. Calling a flash strike in 1999 the four men had instructed ATC officers not to give any signal to planes with respect to landing and take off. This resulted in 22 airplanes hovering over the airport at the same time, for lack of instructions from the ground – a serious safety hazard. In my opinion, this action by the ATC speaks of irresponsibility of the highest order. The controllers were literally playing with the lives of hundreds of innocent passengers. If a major air disaster was averted, it was only due to the skill of the pilots and the grace of God. In any other civilized country, the four men would have been charged with culpable manslaughter, prosecuted and probably sent to jail. This is India, however, the workers’ paradise. To their credit, the judiciary twice held – at the High Court and Supreme Court level – that the four men be prosecuted and sentenced. Indeed, the accused were initially dismissed from service by the Airport Authority of India. So far, so good. It is what happened later that is inexcusable. After a suitable period, the management reinstated them on “humanitarian grounds”. Humanitarian grounds – are they serious? Did the accused display even a shard of humanity when they intentionally put hundreds of innocent men, women and children at grave risk? No, all they were concerned about was a bigger pay packet. And now the ‘benevolent’ state government has compounded the felony by asking for withdrawal of judicial proceedings. No one is disputing that the right to strike is guaranteed by the constitution of India. What is often lost sight of is that, with this right comes responsibility. A strike is a weapon given to labour to wrest reasonable demands from the management – and their dispute is limited to the management. Under no circumstances are they justified in inconveniencing or endangering the general public, who are not a party to the dispute. Yet, this is precisely what happens, frequently and with impunity. And it is not just the labour unions. Our political parties are renowned for enforcing illegal bandhs – and shutting down the city – at the slightest opportunity to score brownie points. This has not only caused severe inconvenience to the general public – who may or may not support the cause of the bandh, but are forced to remain indoors and miss work nonetheless – it has also been known to cause casualties. There have been recorded instances of seriously ill patients dying, because ambulances were not permitted to ply the roads. It is a shameful state of affairs. Yet, when the so-called law makers themselves break the law with impunity, there is little recourse available to the public. The failed experiment of Nehruvian socialism was given a decent burial a long time ago. India is on its way to becoming a world power, not because of our politicians, but in spite of them. Populism may win votes, but it has been proved to have disastrous consequences time and again. It is about time our “leaders” got the message.