Rest Regulations for Pilots

In a leading article on the front page on 3rd June 2008, The Times of India warned “Sleepy pilot may be flying you“. The article reported that airlines had been operating without any rest rules for pilots for the last two days. The article opened with

“They may have the best inflight service possible, attractive air fares and a great on-time performance record to top it all. But behind those cockpit doors, your airline may have rostered a set of fatigued pilots who have to try hard enough to keep their eyes open.”

Todays edition reports (again in a leading article on the front page):

“An Air India Jaipur-Mumbai flight flew well past its destination with both its pilots fatigued and fast asleep in the cockpit. When the pilots were finally woken up by anxious Mumbai air traffic controllers, the plane was about half way to Goa”

(For context, Air India is the government run airline that for most of its existence was the only airline in the country. Private airline companies opened in the 1990’s after the government opened the airline sector)

Does anyone see the irony?

Civil Service and The Constitution (part 3)

Part 2 of this series examined the contradictions and ambiguities in the Indian constitution.

A contradictory and ambiguous constitution has direct effects on the functioning of the judiciary and the legislatures. With no firm principles to guide them, judges have no standards other than their own convictions. With no clear limits on the powers of the legislature, legislators succeed in enacting laws with the sole purpose of extending their hold on power.

However it is the indirect effects of the constitution on the functioning of the executive (the bureaucracy) that this post seeks to examine. Consider a bureaucrat who sincerely intends to do his duty. His duty consists of implementing rules and policies decided by the legislature. The policies decided by a legislature concerned only with extending its hold on power cannot be implemented without violating the rights of individuals. The bureaucrat is left open to charges of discrimination or improper implementation if the victims of the policies seek justice. This creates a motivation to delay any required action or to push responsibility for it on someone else. Moreover the policies of the legislature are subject to arbitrary change as the balance of power shifts. The bureaucrat is then forced to reverse any actions he may have taken. The bureaucrat simply has no way to do his duties honestly. Any principled action he takes will earn him enemies from people in positions of power. Now consider a bureaucrat who has no scruples in doing whatever it takes to advance his career. All that he has to do is to ensure that he remains in the favor of his superiors and take as little responsibility as possible.

The arbitrary and unlimited powers conferred on the legislative and executive branches by the constitution make it impossible for the bureaucracy to function honestly. It is futile to complain that the bureaucracy is ‘corrupt’. It is impossible to reduce ‘corruption’ in the bureaucracy or bring transparency to its functioning without a proper constitution. And it is impossible to have a proper constitution without a widespread recognition of the proper role of a government.



In a comment to Part 2 of this series Aristotle The Geek pointed me to this link to Ayn Rand’s essay “The Nature of Government” hosted on this page of The Center For Civil Society.

Civil Service and The Constitution (Part 2)

Part 1 of this series concluded with

“The Indian constitution grants parliament almost unlimited powers to enact laws. It is this that allows politicians and thus the bureaucracy to get away with anything. It is this that breeds corruption.”

This post seeks to elaborate. A constitution is a document that establishes the structure, procedures, powers and duties of a government by means of principles. A constitution is the standard to which enacted laws must confirm and by which they are to be interpreted. For a constitution to be meaningful, it must be unambiguous and consistent. For a constitution to be successful, its principles must be valid.

Here are some articles from the Indian constitution (available here and here)

15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.

(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.

(4) Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

16. Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment
(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.

(4) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.

23. Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour
(1) Traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.
(2) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purposes, and in imposing such service the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste or class or any of them.

31A. Saving of laws providing for acquisition of estates, etc.—
(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in article 13, no law providing for—
(a) the acquisition by the State of any estate or of any rights therein or the extinguishment or modification of any such rights, or
(b) the taking over of the management of any property by the State for a limited period either in the public interest or in order to secure the proper management of the property

(2) In this article,—
(a) the expression ‘‘estate’’ shall, in relation to any local area, have the same meaning as that expression or its local equivalent has in the existing law relating to land tenures in force in that area and shall also include—
(i) any jagir, inam or muafi or other similar grant and in the States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, any janmam right;
(ii) any land held under ryotwari settlement

The Indian Constitution is for the most part not a codification of principles at all, but an attempt to solve some of the social problems (such as untouchability, feudal land holdings, extreme backwardness in most sections of society etc) at the time it was written. Most of the articles follow a pattern of expressing a principle and then laying out conditions under which it can be violated by the state (Also see Ergo’s post as an example of this). This mess of contradictory and concrete-bound articles institutionalizes an approach of rampant pragmatism to governance. It institutionalizes the idea that there are no absolute rights, no absolute principles and no absolute limits to the actions governments can take. The Indian constitution is not a document that protects individuals from the misuse of power by the state. It is a document that protects the state from any legal challenges that individuals might raise (Perhaps the most common phrase in the constitution is “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State…“)

Part 3 will examine the relation between civil service and the constitution.

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