The futility of legalistic measures to foster accountability

Akshay Mangla has a great article on the Government of India’s biometric attendance tracking system:

…One must ask whether attendance is a high enough bar, and whether the benefits of meeting that bar through instruments like surveillance outweigh the costs. The costs involve a downward dynamic in which institutionalized distrust induces further suspicion and fear within the state, generating additional rules and tighter systems of institutional oversight. Elements of a downward dynamic are already visible in India’s legalistic state. From the Lokpal Bill’s attempt to combat corruption through the creation of a super-agency, to the Right to Education Act’s itemized checklist of school norms, the state has learned to respond to governance failures with more and ever tighter regulatory prescriptions. And yet, these formal rules are dis-embedded from the informal norms, relations, and realities that shape policy implementation…

I wholeheartedly agree. The overarching spirit of a biometric attendance system is one that offers easy thrills to an angry middle class, much like linear narratives of justice depicted in many Bollywood flicks. There is evidence that suggests that this system will not work and good reason to believe that employees will focus more on gaming the system rather than stepping up work.

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