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The Penalty of Inefficiency

Mohit Hira is the Chief Executive & Publisher, Open magazine
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The present government need not squander away a mandate as overwhelming as this and must fix India’s infrastructure first at its very fundamental level. Sanskrit and The Gita can wait
A young girl is raped by a lone taxi driver in New Delhi almost exactly two years after another was by a bus driver and his cronies in the same city. This year’s victim survived but is scarred. The 2012 prey died.

There are alarming similarities in both instances, including the threat made by the Uber taxi driver who swore he would shove an iron rod up to his victim’s stomach if she didn’t give in to his lust. The girl who died after the bus rape had suffered exactly this gruesome torture. Clearly, Shiv Kumar Yadav, the culprit, had learned his craft (if you can call it that) from the earlier crime. And, evidently, our Government, hasn’t. The fact that Delhi, India’s capital state, has had no elected government for the last year, is no excuse.

Consider this axiom: the failure of a government to provide basic infrastructure will lead to a burgeoning private-sector enterprise.

Consider this, too: continued inefficiency by the government will lead to crimes at all levels by the very same private-sector service providers.

Uber is only the latest to be in the spotlight. Earlier, it was New Delhi’s privately-owned, chartered bus service that has been pressed into public service by a government incapable of creating a semblance of public transport. For years, Delhi-ites have suffered at the hands of killer buses, truant taxis and lecherous auto-drivers. Other taxi services, cars and MUVs that double as office cabs, autos et al have all been responsible for all kinds of crimes. Had Delhi’s early governments focused on building a safe, efficient public transport system (like Bombay and Calcutta once did) the city might have been safer. Instead, we gloated that the city has more vehicles than Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai combined, lapped up the malls, parks, expressways (though one of those would be maligned later) music festivals and other allures. Women are up in arms against the blanket ban on Uber and on other similar services because their forever-fragile security cover has been snatched away again. Uber may have erred in its responsibilities and relied on the consumer behaviour that almost no one who signs up for a web-based service reads the terms and conditions that insulates the service provider. But what Uber did was provide, albeit briefly, the comfort of being able to move about freely and at a reasonable fare in a city notorious for extortionist thugs camouflaged as drivers. The cocoon was, evidently, a mirage.

Come to think of it, this is not the only threat we face in an inefficient India. I grew up in a time when we didn’t have a phone at home and the quickest way to get any news was the telegram. The postal service was dependable and the only option. But, over time, insufficient funds and an inability to keep pace with expanding metros and mushrooming towns – plus the rise of technology-enabled communications – led to the marginalisation of the post office.

Enter, couriers.

We abandoned the khaki-clad, capped postman (stopped collecting stamps too) and forked out a hefty premium to send documents and gifts by private courier services. An entire industry was born, huge employment generated, even aircraft leased…and every government smiled benignly because the people were happy. Also because taxes could be collected wherever such services were tracked. But, in the process, we created the shifty courier who would enter your house on the pretext of delivering something and then commit a crime. If he didn’t go that far, he could always pilfer something on the way.

A third, and now almost a blind-spot, example of inefficiency leading to high-risk crimes is security: when there aren’t enough policemen to guard a city, private guards take over. And with inadequate background checks and poor training, we’ve allowed a parallel force to grow under our nose. Aren’t there enough reports of guards turning to the dark side and stealing, kidnapping, murdering or raping the very people who entrusted their lives to them? Would we have been safer without them had we invested in the police system?

There are other such services that should be the most ethical but end up being the exact opposite. Education is one where governments have failed India at an enormous level. Among the most abused systems in the country is our khichdi of schools, colleges and universities. If we had a proper state-funded, secure education network, would we need nurseries where little children get molested? Or schools that demand monies for swimming pools? Colleges that privately offer degrees without having any competent faculty? And teachers who skip lessons so that their students can pay private tuition fees?

And I don’t even want to get started on our non-existent public healthcare.

You could argue that the state is not responsible for everything and that, in the real world, crime will happen. True, but is not an elected government’s primary responsibility to ensure that its citizens get secure, efficient services that are fundamental for our existence?

An inefficient government is good for private enterprise in its truest, capitalist form. It is also good for malpractices to flourish. And this Government, instead of throwing baby out with bathwater, needs to look within. It needs to not squander away a mandate as overwhelming as this but must fix India’s infrastructure first at its very fundamental level. Sanskrit and The Gita can wait.

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