Monday, April 02, 2012

On Corruption, part IV

Part I, Part II and Part III.

If public services, governance and statutory institutions are failing, is it advisable for NGOs and individuals to assume the responsibility? If a river is getting polluted, is it good for a charitable trust to address that pollution? Should concerned citizens start cleaning their streets littered with garbage, and in the absence of sewerage, dig their own septic tanks?

I regard these as short-term measures, which contain within themselves a grave possibility of leading to letting those responsible off the hook. What is the pollution control board doing? Where are the sanitary workers? Where is town planning?

It is far more useful, though requiring far more tenacity and paperwork, to address a lapse in governance through a process of grievance redressal. Admitted, this process is sometimes horribly broken and one doesn't know who to approach, who to write to, how to pursue one's application, and so on. But one must understand that the process of grievance redressal cannot be much better than the state of affairs which lead to the grievance. But the process exists, and there are ways to escalate an un-redressed grievance.

It is a great favor to others if someone can document the grievance-redressal mechanism for a particular facet of public infrastructure or governance. How to write a complaint, whom to address it to, how to request for an Action-Taken-Report, how to ask for a time-bound-action via RTI, how to escalate to higher officials, how to use various kinds of media (print, online) to publicize the issue, etc.

When it comes to one's own home, it is usually much easier to just solve the issue for oneself and to hell with the world and who wants to spend time approaching the authorities. Almost universally, every urban home in India has its power generation/backup system, water storage/purification system, and uses various kinds of insect and mosquito repellents.

Unfortunately, there is a very strong reason why citizens solve the problems on their own without involving the authorities. It is a simple matter of economics. An average citizen or charitable organization cannot bear the cost (time, money, effort, stress, the cost of living with a bad state of affairs) of waiting for the authorities to act. While one is busy pleading the electricity department for a regular supply of stable power, the appliances in one's home will get burnt out by low voltage and one's infants will be crying in the heat. While a citizen is waiting for the roads department to fix the potholes and broken traffic lights, the citizen naturally learns to adjust and live with the state of affairs instead of breaking his head against the wall.

There is no recourse available to a citizen for harm caused due to a failure of governance. Families of those killed in public transport accidents are usually granted a princely sum of a couple of lakhs. There is no punitive fine for a wrongful arrest (except in extremely rare cases), and more interestingly, the punitive fine comes from the coffers of the treasury, not from the offending employee's pocket.

And the grievance-redressal processes in India are horribly designed and can test the patience of a saint. They are, again, a relic of colonial items.

But still, if a citizen wants to hold his government responsible, and wants to get at least some value out of his taxes, he must not give up and start cleaning the road himself, which is to surrender and admit defeat.

He must at least try to work within the system and see if the problem can be solved. Writing a few letters is not hard, and one may be pleasantly surprised to see the effects it can have.

I once heard of a man who, in his retirement, formed a habit of writing at least ten letters to public authorities every day to correct some government malfunction that he saw in his locality. Most of his letters went unheeded, but like Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank redemption, he kept reminding them. And even if only 30% of his letters eventually resulted in some action, I think he did a great deal just sitting at home.

The situation is objectively quite hopeless, but I would like to believe that it is not completely over till one says it is over. And the will to fight against tremendous odds is what heroism is all about. The urge to improve oneself and the surroundings, despite an almost hellish state of affairs in which there is no ray of hope or light, is what makes man transcendental.

Be the change that you want to see. By being strong, by choosing your battles, and by fighting in a way that blazes the trail for future heroes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I buy your idea, but you cant depend on grievance-redressal processes only to resolve your problem. You need to get up, clean and do things by yourself. Though, there should be a community in every society to take these issues and make it big deal.