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The Spirit of the Laws

July 26, 2012

I had just finished my morning rant, and pushed it on to WordPress. Since I did not have anything in particular to do, and since I have been stung, vexed, irritated by the Supreme Court ruling on sun control films, and since I was feeling badly behaved, I was just browsing on the Spirit of the Laws. Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, had in 1748 published the treatise De l’esprit des lois. I have not read it even in translation in a language I understand, but I think it must have been good, because the Catholic Church promptly added it to their list of proscribed writing in 1751. I was also taught in my youth that the treatise was one of the influential intellectual inputs into what became the French Revolution of 1789.

I found that there is some good comment on the Supreme Court’s act from good lawyers here:

Many of the readers’ comments also make good reading.

One of the fundamental features of the Constitution of India as I understand is that legislation is the function of the parliament and state legislatures. The executive frames rules under the legislation, and the courts can only interpret the spirit of the law and check whether the rules go against it. In this instance, it looks like the court has added something de novo. One needs some Latin in such matters, doesn’t one?

The executive, read the traffic police, have zealously caught upon it. Till yesterday, they were not bothered about the 0% VTL (zero-percent-Visual-Transmission-of-Light) films on car windows, though Sec 100 (2) of the Motor Vehicle Rules specifies a minimum of 70% VTL for the front and the back and 50% for the side windows. Nor are they bothered about lane-splitting (I see five lanes and more on the three-lane roads here in Chennai), honking (also with dual and multi-tone horns), intimidating driving, using dazzling headlights on high beam, etc. No stop, no look, just proceed at T-junctions, no yield-to-right at roundabouts… Why, police vehicles themselves break every rule in the book. Except for some sporadic misguided efforts in Delhi during the Khalistani trouble and some other periods elsewhere with respect to dark windows, there is little enforcement.

Misguided? This is where the spirit of the law comes in. I do not think it can be anybody’s case that kidnappings, in-car rape and such other crimes are either caused or abetted by dark car windows. Khalistani terrorists used lots of motorcycles that do not have any windows, let alone tinted ones. Even correlation, if at all, is not causation. There are vans without windows that can be more conducive, and one can always block windows during the duration with something as basic as old newspaper even if the windows transmit 100% visual light. And some readers’ comments to The Hindu story do make a prediction that kidnaps and rapes may very well increase with clear visibility of lone women or kidnap-prospects in cars.

The spirit of the rule regarding VTL is to ensure that the driver can see the road and the traffic; in front and behind her, coming in from the side roads and other lanes. I know the terror that grabbed me when on occasion I had to drive at night a friend’s car with very dark tint on the windows, having to guess the traffic around me, the edge of the road and pedestrians and cyclists on poorly lit roads. Eventually, I wound up winding down the offending windows.

If, on the other hand, the aim is to let the police get a good look at the occupants of a car, especially at night when these crimes probably are more probable, I think we need the following regulations to comply with the spirit of the law:

  1. There must be no tint on any window. (I do not understand the concession to factory-built tints while after-market is a strict no-no. But then I also do not understand why 100% VTL films are banned).
  2. Glass reflects light, curved glass more so, and visibility from outside into the car is reduced. Therefore car windows must as far as possible be only flat, and always carry anti-reflective coating (similar to the coating on camera lenses) compulsorily . The coating must not reduce the visual light transmitted.
  3. Whenever the ambient light is low (the intensity can be specified technically), lights must be switched on inside the car to illuminate the face, sides and back of every occupant. The inside of the car must also be well lit at all times generally so that it should be possible to see if any firearms or other objects capable of being used as weapons of offence are carried.
  4. The boot of the car should be only covered with similar anti-reflective glass or other transparent material and well illuminated to obviate the carriage of weapons / people. (Yes, they have smuggled people across the Berlin wall in the boots of diplomats’ cars)

Now, we will reduce crime. To completely eliminate rapes and abductions, we could probably insist that there must be no glass, only blank openings, and lights must always be switched on inside the car even during day time; like in the Czech Republic, headlights must always be switched on in a running vehicle.

Search me why that rule is there.


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  1. Induchoodan permalink

    Excellent. One could not have put it better. There is one more area which needs new regulations. The helmet used by the two wheeler riders should not cover their face. This not only allows the terrorist to move around incognito, it also allows allows promiscuity among women. In case they use such helmets they should stick their photograph of the back of the helmets for easy identification. Any body using helmets belonging to someone else could be charged for impersonation.

    • Already they ask you to remove the helmet when you go near an ATM. ATMs apparently do not shake the cortex inside the skull-cage.

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