The Government must bring in ease of living with safety and hygiene practices post May 17
Ok, the clapping, torch lights, lamps and petal showers have all been done. Now we need to get back to the slow, frustrating task of getting back to our livelihoods, amid an almost Schrodinger equation- equivalent of a virus wreaking havoc and creating a “panic-demic.” This is my fourth “at home” column on the issue of what does it take to get back to ‘Make in India’ and live the rest of 2020.
Let me draw attention to some real life experiences in the last two months and then I shall derive some inferences. My friend is a neighborhood doctor, kind and tax-paying with a worldview. He has a family of four, including an 80-plus mother, a teenage daughter and a doctor wife. His clinic, which employs three persons, has been shut for two months now. He has a salary, taxes and many such recurring incidentals, to pay every month. As per Government orders, opening up a healthcare standalone unit is/was always allowed but he didn’t have access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) initially. Now he has procured some, but the cost of each suit which has to be disposed after single use is `2,000, which is a recurring capital expenditure he has to bear daily. The question is, can a private healthcare personnel incur this expense every day?
The second instance is from a food distribution initiative organised by the Delhi Government. During the first phase of the lockdown and its concurrent State responses, people queued for food twice daily, but soon they started losing patience. At one instance I was mobbed by a group, who with folded hands, requested me to get them a pass back to their homes in distant villages.
All these are real-life, individual experiences of common people caught in a lockdown. We can always get into an informed argument of what worked and what didn’t and why something is wrong, based on our respective ideologies and political, religious identities. But today we need to act up and free India from these new mass gatherings and miseries. Here are a few suggestions for good governance.
The Central Government has been for nearly two months overruling State Governments due to the powers given it by the Disaster Management Act. The significant point here being Central rule, through District Magistrates who mostly would also report to their State Chief Secretaries and would be answerable to Central Government bosses. The key challenge here is the unwillingness of the bureaucracy to accept this public service not-for-profit job as also being a facsimile version of a corporate job. Agree, many District Magistrates go on to becoming some of the most diligent secretaries (highest level of bureaucracy) but do they become visionary leaders? The Prime Minister has done an good job of empowering this bunch of bureaucrats by getting them to present slide decks and showing targets. Did he get it down to the district level? Atma Nirbhar Bharat or self-reliant India will only happen if each District Magistrate is designated as the CEO. S/he should be able to produce two slides of pre and post-COVID decks on the GDP in the district. They should be empowered with adequate checks, to revive their own district’s economy in a relatively short span of time. Maybe the Disaster Management Act can be utilised for economic empowerment.
Second, the Government should put in more than generous efforts to remove bureaucratic language in policy announcements. Nobody understands “`20,000 crore Subordinate Debt for Stressed MSMEs” to take an example. Do we expect an entry-level staff in a bank, facing a loan-seeking local tailor, employing five, to explain, nuances of this policy to him? Can we expect the Government to simplify with FAQs who are and who aren’t beneficiaries of its schemes? Can governance simplify its language for the people? Land, labour, liquidity and laws can change only when authorities delivering them, start to speak a language understood by citizens. Is it time for simplified communications governance?
Also, can governance be unified? It can be a rhetorical question to ask if, local, district, Central and State Governments can be aligned for a resilient and self-dependent India? Is it possible to break and get an elephant’s share of global supply chains? Can we as a nation, besides shunning ‘Made in China’ Diwali lamps, electrical switches and textiles think about `5,000 phones? Do we acknowledge all these electronic gadgets and their spare parts are an assembly line of global supply chains with origins in China?
Finally, and again related to language, the nomenclature “lockdown” signifying a red line, needs to go away. Yes, the pandemic isn’t going to subside anytime soon and restrictions on movement of people and goods along with significant economic activity are here to stay for some time. However, changes in language will at least prevent the local police from lording over those who can’t afford to argue. Do not bring in “lockdown 4.0”, bring in ease of living with safety and hygiene practices post May 17.
(Writer: Kumardeep Banerjee; Courtesy: The Pioneer)