Monday, 23 April 2012

Mirror Mirror on the Wall!

Critique on the dynamics of the Indian Administration

Sometimes it is good to critique our own selves and introspect what it is that we can improve? Look into the mirror and see the scars and warts that need attention. Consider those who point out our shortcomings as friends rather than foes. Most successful people have used harsh criticism of themselves and what they do for their own benefit.  Why can't our Government and public figures do the same?

Of late there have been various instances where offence has been taken by Government departments and Ministers especially in favour of certain class of people against other countries’ agencies and so on. The shrill defence and seeking of apology for all and sundry cases is a trend that India could well avoid in my view. 

‘Charity begins at home’ and ‘practise what you preach’ are two sayings we are all familiar with, but somewhere in our public life we seem to have forgotten about them. 

South Asians and Indians in it take pride in circumventing procedures sometimes to suit people of power and influence. This has led to the collapse of some Institutions & Agencies created to be the checks and balances of our democracy. Or they are effective at times against a class of people but not against some others. Most often the procedures are vague, opaque and not applied consistently for all to be aware of.

What it feels like being in no ‘Lists’ or no ‘Books’ in this country or anywhere else? I look like a fool unable to get even a routine Passport renewed, get my Aadhar ID or get an approval from the local Municipal Corporation without hiccups. Many times I am advised, ‘Don’t you know anyone in these offices?’ or ‘Why don’t you use an Agent?’ These are not real solutions but methods that compound the issue. 

Procedures need to be published, transparent and easily available to those seeking a service. Millions of people like me- the hoi polloi- run from pillar to post and expend energy just getting normal things attended to –like getting to the bottom of why I am overcharged for electricity consumption by the MSEB? I get billed Rs.20000 retrospectively, after two years without any explanation and nobody in the offices who will pay me any attention, because I am just the ‘Aam Aadmi’ seeking answers. I guess it would be different if I had a referral from someone ‘powerful’!! 

This has created a VIP culture where procedure flouting is the norm. Can we afford to have multiple set of processes and procedures for different set of people? Is this the democracy Mahatma Gandhi envisaged or even Pandit Nehru wanted for Free India?

SRK gets detained for questioning by US immigrations at their airport and all he does is raise hell which is gladly picked up by media and the Indian embassy, Foreign Minister & others in Government. We are unable to follow a well laid down procedure anywhere.

He does not find out how he can express his dissatisfaction, our Embassy does not find out what the procedure for registering his feedback with the 'Traveler Redressal Inquiry' Program. If he had followed the procedure first time round he could have avoided the repeated instances of detention at US airports.

The current situation reminds me of the time my 17 year daughter was held up at Immigration at O'Hare in 2005 not because she showed up in their computer, nor did she have Khan in her name nor is she a Muslim. She did not have the original I-20 on entry; it was safely tucked into a file in the checked-in baggage. But being a girl of 17 did not deter the immigrant officials to question her about the countries she had travelled to just before this visit and why, what is the purpose of her visit and a host of questions that could frighten a young teenager in a foreign country. But after 2 hours of soft grilling she was allowed to leave. That is a non-event and nobody was asked to step in to protest the 'insult' to an Indian national since we felt they were doing their job of keeping the country safe. 

Why? Because we don't belong to a particular class, are not in the list of VVIPs, Fortune 500 rich people or political big wigs and not even on a mere VIP list!

It is slowly becoming evident to me that our democracy is only for the few and not for the majority. 

The Government took up for the Indian kids taken over by the Norwegian Children Protection Service with no background check done on what was the real issue. There are thousands, if not millions of deprived children right here in our shores, visible in every traffic corner but has any government agency so covertly taken them into their protective service? It is left to the media to highlight the occasional Baby Falak and Baby Afreen’s ill-treatments that left us all speechless. But isn’t there any law at all in this overly legislated country to take Suo Moto cognizance against the frail and helpless?

I dream that we have processes that are transparent to all and applicable equally at all times to all. Processes for –

Unified Redressal System- assistance and help available to all easily and on time through a single unified number, whether it is the Fire Brigade, Police Services, Medical Service, reporting rape and other atrocities and so on.

Road Safety - emphasis and seriousness on road safety through an holistic solution consisting of - safe road design, carriageway for all users (vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians), sufficient parking (after all Road tax, wheel tax & other charges are obtained for this purpose), Accident Relief system, stringent licensing system and a penalty system that is seen to be applied to all be they actors, Ministers or others in high places. 

Protection for all - not just Ministers and VIPs; Real protection of children, senior citizens and the physically challenged from abuse and unsafe conditions; portable drinking water accessible equally by all and everything else that makes everyday living bearable. 

Easy access to Government issued documents - an open and easy to understand procedures & rules for obtaining Government issued documents like birth and death certificates, passports, ration cards, PAN card etc without having to go through spurious middlemen.

Easily accessible local representatives - whether the Ward Corporator, Municipal Corporator, Mayor, MLA or MP. Shashi Tharoor, Jay Panda and Naveen Jindal with good local presence are a refreshing change from the old guard. Only wish there are 500 more of them all over India!!

Passenger Protection- treat all types of passengers be it train, bus or air travellers equally.  If a plane is delayed or cancelled there is so much hullabaloo all over. But when similar stuff happens with train travellers (even though the numbers exceed the total number of air passengers) they do not get addressed or exposed. And bus travellers? Well they have to fend for themselves. We need a reliable 'Travelers Information System' that leverages technology and has properly trained personnel supporting the paying passengers.

Upgrade antiquated laws-  especially those enacted by the British in the 19th or early 20th century for their own colonial needs. Using such laws especially for policing and internal security is a crime against ‘free’ Indians.

These are some instances which can help bring about an egalitarian society that all of us deserve. We have the soft power outside the country and the military might but let us also empower the teeming millions who call this wonderful land their HOME. So when we look at the mirror we see a happy and proud citizen not an embarrassed & frustrated one!

Lalitha Ravindran

@mlallu on Twitter 

The Writer is the Head of Insurance Business Analysis Group in Pune. She reasons that criticism from all quarters can be a good thing as it can help us  improve the quality of life that the country provides  its citizenry.

1 comment:

  1. As a child I was told criticism is actually an appreciation in disguise !! our Neta's shud knw this !!Instead of censoring contents in the www.They shud b pragmatic in redressing the grievances faced by the people (AAM ADMI)....
    A great post and rightly shared by Shashi sir :)