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Collective Responsibility


If there is any good that has come out of the Covid-19 crisis, it has to be the realisation among the people that there are sound reasons behind most regulations, in this case SOPs on pandemic management. Dodging them is no achievement – it merely sets one up for a bigger, more painful experience, later.

Part of the problem, of course, is the formulation and implementation of regulations. Government not only fails comprehensively in improving and updating regulations, its officials use them as obstructive means to extract bribes from the people. Instead of making things easier, they deliberately create conditions that provoke people into trying to dodge the rules. Even now, when demons would become human for a while, reports are coming in regularly of how corruption continues without missing a beat. Even the condition of the pandemic and lockdown victims has not melted hearts. Officials may have had to give from their pockets towards relief efforts, but they remain relentless in extracting their ‘due’ from the suffering public. In fact, the desperate plight of the people and the large amounts of financial aid in the system has made them even more determined to make hay while the sun shines. Nothing underlines this lack of fundamental morality than the issues such as differing results of Covid tests in private and government laboratories, or the profiting on oxygen supply. It is not by chance that sundry compounders, clerks and inspectors raided around the country turn out to be masters of fortunes running into hundreds of crores of rupees.

Having tasted blood, it is very difficult to turn these man-eaters into vegetarians. For their own good, therefore, the people must take on the double responsibility of becoming not only law-abiding citizens, but also crusaders for probity. This means that they will have to display patience, courage and determination in dealing with government departments. Even though the pressure to pay a bribe is applied at a time when the individual’s need is most urgent and desperate, citizens should insist on getting their work done in the proper way. If enough number of persons were to do that and create a stink if work was not done, it would ‘train’ the petty tyrants manning every office to perform their duty.

At the same time, people should realise the folly of trying to circumvent the rules and regulations by paying bribes. As has been seen, recently, this act only damages them the most. Most of the world’s civilised and developed countries have a citizenry that does not need to be pushed into obeying the basic rules – they know they are for the common good and energy, time and money are saved as a result. Administrators can focus on the really important things.

In India it is the desire for political power and money (not necessarily in that order) that diverts the attention of those responsible. Even the best of schemes run aground because of the parasitic activities that develop around them. This only reflects the failure of the administrative culture, the lack of adherence to norms, and poor sense of responsibility among public servants. Eventually it costs lives.

There are lessons to be learned from the present crisis on individual and collective responsibility, but is that happening?