Delhi’s lieutenant governor VK Saxena will soon formally allow over 300 establishments to work round-the-clock. Businesses such as hotels and delivery services can’t afford downtime. A modern economy never sleeps, or at least some parts of it are always humming. The MVA government in Maharashtra was keen on something similar for Mumbai, India’s other megalopolis. The economic logic of a city that never sleeps is easy to grasp but in India it runs into the reflexive approach of a state that seeks to regulate every aspect of life.
There are encouraging signs of some change in this approach. The challenge to paternalism is coming from within. In Muvattupuzha, a Kerala town, local authorities recently organised a four-night package of activities, including live music performances and a women’s marathon. The effort was named ‘Girls Night Out’ to encourage women to go out after sunset and also nudge the town towards creating a nightlife. By all accounts, the response was overwhelming. It just shows how state paternalism has been a killjoy.
India rightly aspires to be a developed nation. The journey there will require governments to trust people more. There are plenty of laws that impose unreasonable curbs on where and when women can work. Economic compulsions forced multiple carve-outs from different laws to allow women to work night shifts. Instead of exceptions the rule should be that women know what’s in their best interest. Let them choose. Deregulation doesn’t mean absence of any regulation. Police forces need more personnel and governments have a role to play in ensuring there’s no labour exploitation. In a country challenged by disguised unemployment, there’s always a danger of economic vulnerabilities being exploited. The state’s role in enabling a fairer environment will remain undiminished.
Another role that needs to be played effectively is to check non-state actors from enforcing their cultural sensibilities on others. In this context, GoI did well to ensure that theatres in J&K opened again and beer can be stocked in departmental stores under a liberalised policy. Why shouldn’t all of India experience the same benefits? The journey to a developed country status will have to allow citizens to make their own choices on what they wish to consume without the fear of incurring the wrath of thin-skinned compatriots. Authorities in Delhi, Muvattupuzha and J&K deserve praise for their effort.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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