My childhood friend from Hyderabad called me last week to help his brother-in-law in Kanpur get admitted to a hospital for Covid treatment as his family was unable to. While I was calling some of my contacts in the city to arrange for his admission, the distress call came as the patient was feeling breathless.
Over the next two days, between Delhi, Kanpur and Lucknow, several of my contacts in ‘high places’ could not get my friend’s brother-in-law a hospital bed or oxygen. He died while being taken around in ambulances for a whole day.
I felt helpless, and depressed. My contacts in government, business, media and politics could not ‘deliver’. The family’s wealth also did not help secure hospital admission, oxygen or treatment.
Then, I got a call from the family for finding a ‘spot’ in the crematorium in Kanpur. I approached my contacts in Kanpur again, but to no avail. The family had to stand in a long queue in Bithoor, several miles outside the city, to somehow cremate the dead.
Then, I began to review all the various helplines, web-sites, social media links sent by various government agencies, and many ‘do-gooders’, charity-minded citizens & techies. Why did none of these work?
Neither personal connections, nor friendships nor economic status worked, nor public or private information channels worked, when I needed them to. I had also been forwarding to my networks many of these ‘help-lines’ and Apps prepared by good Samaritans. To no avail? Why??
As I searched answers to these disturbing questions, a colleague forwarded me a recent article titled “Jugaad breathes its last”. Reading thje article, I recollected something I had written about Jugaad and governance some time ago. Entitled “Jugaad Mind-set Can’t Fix Governance”, the first few sentences felt surreal:
- Children dying in government hospitals for want of oxygen, medicines and/or doctors in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan…
- Garbage dumps collapsing in Delhi, killing sanitation workers; hundreds of sanitation workers injured and killed in manholes and drains…
- Thousands of primary school para-teachers on strike, demanding regularisation; fired at by police when protesting…
- Bumper crops of vegetables thrown away by farmers as they rot in the fields…
Something similar was happening these days, as second wave of Covid infections spiked in India.
My friend and his family, like me, have become used to seeking ‘favours’ and support, when needed, through our connections in ‘high places’, and our middle-upper class economic status in a society where a vast majority are poor, deprived, ignorant and invisible.
We never had to stand in a queue, whether for grocery or hospital; we never ‘filled’ a form, paper or digital, to secure any services or benefits (like electricity or water connection); we used a phone call (or an occasional mail) to ‘ask’ someone responsible for these functions to ‘deliver’ the benefit to us. We even got our kids admitted to premier private primary schools and colleges, through a phone call.
The ‘fix-it’ mind set was encouraged because the ‘system’ did not work for any one, let alone for us. So, we had to get around the system, beat the system, use our (family’s) connections or money to ‘buy’ our way out of the non-functioning system.
So, when the neighbourhood drain got clogged with garbage, we managed to get some sweeper to clean it in front of our house or lane; but we did not demand that system of garbage collection and drain cleaning be fixed.
When our electric supply was disrupted during summer heat, we got the local, temporary ‘lineman’ to ‘bypass’ the main line with an open wire; we did not demand that out-dated, dysfunctional electricity supply board be modernised.
When the ‘fancy’ metro service started, we did not prefer to walk a mile or so to get to the nearest station (we found pavements either broken or occupied, but did not demand the right to walk, since we had our personal transports); we are happy that some rickety ‘e-rickshaws’ (either using old water pump or some cheap battery) driven by an under-age (about 13 years) boy took us to and fro metro station from our homes in less than 10 Rs a ride.
So, folks like us were delighted when such world famous experts, as in Harvard University in America, wrote about the low-cost, creative Jugaad approach to problem –solving in India about a decade ago.
The Jugaad approach was, and continues to be, a quick-fix, beat the system approach for temporary problem-solving when the system and its institutions do not function. Described as ‘clever’, ‘resourceful’, ‘innovative’, the Jugaad mind-set has obstructed systematic governance reforms in the country, not just recently, but for decades.
It is this mind-set that I tried to act on in responding to SOS call of my friend from Hyderabad last week. I tried to use my connections, be clever, resourceful to somehow get around the system.
But, I failed. I had to fail, because how many times, how many citizens will try to ‘get around the system’ through being clever, connected and resourceful?
I reread my article to find:
“The current malaise is due to decades of neglect and denial. Many commissions and committees have made detailed recommendations on administrative reforms, police reforms, railway reforms, judiciary reforms. But no government, political leader or public actor has made any effort towards systemic governance reform.”
Then I asked myself: did I (or folks like my friend from Hyderabad) ever demand that systematic governance reforms be institutionalised? If Kanpur Nagar Nigam did not anticipate need for more ‘burning ghats’ (crematoriums) near the holy river Ganges, did we ever raise a voice that decentralised, devolved, constitutionally-mandated local governance agencies be adequately staffed and resourced?
Did we ever think of demanding that basic public services (health, education, water, sanitation, security, etc) be provided for all citizens through public agencies?
No, we were happy to ‘Jugaad’ our way to private hospitals, schools, gated security, private water supply, etc. Because, systematic governance reforms will take time, remove many of my current privileges, and make me ‘stand in a queue’ and await my turn, after filling a form, like any other Indian citizen!
Till then, many patients will die in ambulances, and many bodies will float in river Ganges.
This article first appeared in The Times of India | Dismantle jugaad for Systematic Governance on May 18, 2021.
About the Author:
Dr Rajesh Tandon is Founder President of PRIA, New Delhi. He is also a guest Speaker with IMPRI, New Delhi.