Monday, December 4, 2023

Rule of law subverted in Meghalaya


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On November 11, 2021 the State Bank of India had opened its doors as usual. The State Government had declared a holiday on that day on account of Shad Nongkrem but banks are governed by the Negotiable Instruments Act (NI Act) and have to follow those scheduled holidays only. But no sooner than the banks started functioning when some pressure group activists entered the premises and ordered the banks to down their shutters. The banks complied because all institutions in Meghalaya are used to obeying two sets of laws – those enacted by the State and arbitrary orders issued by pressure groups. Interestingly, the police instead of upholding the rule of law told the banks to comply with the pressure group’s orders lest it turns into a law and order issue. This sort of abrogation of the rule of law at the behest of pressure groups has become par for the course in Meghalaya. The Government and its law and order machinery looks the other way. Indirectly therefore, the actions of the pressure groups are being legitimized and they use that clout to assert their muscle power in other economic spaces.
It is ironic that the banks from Meghalaya have not taken this issue seriously enough to discuss it with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which is the regulatory authority for banking institutions in India. Banks serve a customer base and like Gandhi said the customer is king. Banks exist and bankers earn their salaries from their depositors. Bank employees are not paid by the Government or by the pressure groups whose diktat they benignly obey. Banks are constantly on the lookout for customers because without deposits they would not be able to survive. It is unbelievable that the banks would supinely agree to bring their shutters down merely because a group of activists flexed their muscles and told them to do so. Does this happen in any other state? Why have a police force at all when the rule of law is subverted every day? The Shad Nongkrem is a festival specific to Hima Nongkrem. There are similar dances in the other Himas too so should the banks be ordered to down their shutters for all these festivals? If there are bank employees that are connected to the Shad Nongkrem they should be allowed to avail leave under Restricted Holidays. But this habit of flouting the NI Act at the drop of a hat and capitulating to the demands of pressure groups is eroding the rule of law which is the basis for the survival of democracy in this state. This week banks are closed for four whole days? Will they make up for the losses incurred?

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