Lives are being lost not just to catastrophic events, such as the pandemic, but also to human negligence in a multiplicity of ways. A child falling into a manhole or drain, a scooter tipping over because of a pothole, etc., cannot be considered freak accidents anymore – they have become distressingly common. As unlock 2 takes place and traffic resumes on the roads, people seem to be doing their best to get killed in ways other than just COVID-19. Layer after layer of negligence builds up to catastrophic levels, particularly during the monsoons; people are expected to cope and adjust to these failures of governance, management and maintenance.
The stories come in from metropolises like Mumbai and small cities like Dehradun. It seems that the effort required to improve conditions is much greater than just coping with the daily losses. Every agency tasked with maintenance blames another and, sadly, each has a case. Those who build roads complain about the damage caused by those laying cables and water pipes. Contractors blame delayed payment for work being left incomplete. Everywhere there is corruption corroding the system, eventually paid for with human lives.
Of course, the whole is complicated by the disorderly conduct of the people themselves. Anybody sincerely wishing to make a difference is overwhelmed by the absolute chaos to the point that it is impossible to decide on a plan or on where to make a beginning. The system of governance is nineteenth century, while most technologies in use are early twentieth century. Those running the administration are unschooled in collecting and analysing data, finding patterns and building plans based on them. They have zero support in the form of academic research to inform their actions simply because even the institutes and university departments tasked to study specific issues are completely clueless. Sadly, there is no shortage of hollow doctorates and degrees being granted by them in various disciplines. These very ‘experts’ then constitute the committees and think-tanks set up to find solutions. It is no surprise that the answers are not forthcoming.
It is not possible, of course, to fix everything at once, but the present state government ought to conduct pilot audits of critical departments to evaluate their levels of efficiency and quality of outcomes. The productivity per rupee allocated ought to be determined and the management appraised accordingly. Promotions of individuals should be linked to these appraisals, and the various departments restructured on the basis of findings to improve performance. Effective incentives and disincentives ought to be introduced to shape public behaviour so that the chaos is curbed at the ‘street’ level. Also, outreach programmes should be prepared for sensitisation and awareness, beginning from the schools. The matter is urgent and action cannot be delayed further – the tragic consequences are overwhelming.