Before I accepted deeksha from the Jagadguru, I used to be a libertarian, and believe that Strict Liability was a better alternative to regulation in cases like the Uphaar tragedy.
“Strict Liability” is a legal term of art. It means that the owners of the Uphaar cinema are liable in court for their act of omission, i.e. failure to provide for the safety of their patrons.
There are many reasons why I thought that strict liability is better than the kind of regulation where fire and safety inspectors from the municipal corporation visit to check if you are following government-specified norms.
For one thing, those inspectors can be bribed. Even if they cannot be, government-specified norms focus on the process, while strict liability holds people responsible for results. This means that the theatre owners cannot get away by saying “I was following all the norms. See, I even passed the inspection and everything!”
Strict liability sets a moving target, and it will mean that the theatre owners will have to adhere to the best possible safety norms available at any point, not just the static ones set by the government.
An inspection regime puts a burden on all people, both guilty and innocent, while strict liability will punish only the guilty. The cost the owners save on bribing the inspectors will be better spent on upgrading fire safety equipment. Reducing the cost of doing business will improve competition, which always is a good way to improve standards. And the money you save by sacking the inspectors can be spent on modernizing the courts and hiring more judges – so that the next trial need not take ten years to clear a sessions court.
When I last wrote about regulation, someone reminded me of that tired old aphorism “Prevention is better than cure”. But this is not a dichotomy between prevention and cure at all. Punishing the guilty is as much a preventive measure as subjecting theatre owners to a checklist. The only question is, which measure does a better job of preventing tragedies.
Of course, all this thinking was prior to my transformation. Now that I have accepted the Jagadguru into my heart, I am convinced that regulation can never fail. Any failure of regulation is evidence that we do not have enough regulation. Like Boxer, we must try harder. Krisham Vande Jagadguru!