Keeping order in Little India

The wrecked private bus at the junction of Race Course Road at the aftermath of the Little India riot on Dec 9, 2013. In less than half a minute, construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu went from a man chasing after a departing bus to being pinned under its massive wheels.


WITH the passage of the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill, the authorities have a new means of keeping the situation in Little India stable. The mayhem of Dec 8 is fresh in the minds of residents who had watched aghast as rampaging foreign workers unleashed street violence not seen here for decades.

More understanding of the root of the unrest will emerge, no doubt, as the Committee of Inquiry takes a comprehensive look into the riot. In the meantime, life goes on, in and around Little India, and there is a need to maintain order and to adopt preventive measures, like curbing easy access to alcohol.

No responsible government could defer taking steps to ensure the safety and peace of mind of both residents and visitors to the area.

The new legislation permits the authorities to adopt a calibrated approach to preserving order, instead of relying on the Public Order (Preservation) Act.

That Act is designed to deal with much graver situations, making it necessary to have a piece of legislation neither too onerous nor too weak to maintain calm in Little India. The focused nature of the additional temporary measures enhances their expected efficacy.

Some have voiced disquiet about the need for the new law, given that the authorities already had powers they needed, and some.

Now that Parliament has passed it into law, how the powers are used on the ground will shape judgment on the legislation. The police need to be circumspect in invoking its provisions.

They can exclude or ban people from entering the area if their conduct is likely to threaten public order, and search any vehicle, person or place reasonably suspected of being related to an offence.

In using these powers, tactfulness and sensitivity will need to complement, as always, a no-nonsense attitude to potential trouble-makers. The restrictions on the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol in the area should contribute to an atmosphere of moderation that would make it easier for the authorities to do their job. Indeed, the best outcome of the new law, which is valid for 12 months, would be that recourse to it would decrease in tandem with need.

Little India is more than a place of recreation for workers from South Asia. It has a special attraction because of the cultural and emotional resonances of home. Law-abiding foreign workers, as most are most of the time, must continue to feel welcome there.

Their custom is essential, too, for the eateries and other shops that thrive in the neighbourhood. This economic vitality and cultural ambience should be preserved, both for the sake of the workers and businesses, and for Singapore's image as a cosmopolitan and open city. But order must prevail

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