A good babu in North Block would feel satisfied he had fulfilled his Independence Day duty by pulling an old file from a dusty shelf and re-issuing a circular to all state governments reminding them of a requirement to prevent dishonour to the national flag, particularly around August 15 when restrictions on flying the Tricolour are relaxed.

Fair enough, the political climate is presently so coloured that “patriotism” gives rise to negative interpretations and people at large need to be instructed on what were once accepted as basics. The circular drew specific attention to increasing use of plastic flags, which not being biodegradable cannot be disposed of easily, and often form part of the urban waste that the authorities struggle to manage.

However, the issue of the circular was “reported” by the Press Information Bureau, New Delhi, on the evening of August 13 ~ much too late for taking the preventive measures desired by the home ministry.

For the past 10 days small plastic flags are being sold on the streets by folk who might otherwise have been seeking alms, and are now trying to earn a pittance by tempting citizens to participate in a national celebration.

So what exactly does the home ministry want? For the police to wield the big stick and further harass/exploit the downtrodden? Surely it would have been preferable for early action to be taken against the producers and wholesale-sellers of the “illegal” flags.

Yet again it is the end-user who is targeted for what a competent government could have averted. That little effective action is taken, few prosecutions initiated, only confirms the routine manner in which the circular was issued.

This is, perhaps, even greater insult to the Ticolour than a hungry, ill-clad kid trying to earn ar upee, or even less, on Independence Day. Citing a lot of legalese, the circular warns that the Flag Code of India 2002, and Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971, even provide for imprisonment.

Why penal action cannot be taken against bureaucrats for merely issuing circulars, and local officials who permit the production of plastic flags is a query none dare answer. The circular suggests that paper flags are acceptable.

What about the paper kites that fly in northern Indian skies at this time of the year? Tricolour kites are very popular on August 15. There is also need for clarification if the huge flags an industrialist tries to have flutter over prominent places (Connaught Place in the Capital, for example) complies with the code.

Or the gas-balloons trailing the tricolour released after the Republic Day parade. Clearly there is need for a re-look at the code, update it if necessary. As well as for the home ministry to appreciate that circulars on the eve of Independence Day or Republic Day are of only token value.