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Millennium Post

Governance falling through cracks

Preventive construction is economical, post-disaster management is costly. However, Indian government, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs and political parties never learn, even though natural disasters have been taking place in hundreds without fail.

The disaster in Char Dham was from incessant rain, yet the flood caused by the rains cannot be as ferocious as oceanic typhoons or tsunamis, which strike with ritual fury at the developed countries of Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Gulf States or the USA. Yet, the houses in the Char Dham lie crumbled, the villages wiped out, loss of life and properties mind-boggling and most likely under-reported – why? It’s precisely because India never had preventive construction systems in place. There is indeed no system in place about region-specific preventive management of the holy tourist spots in the country.

Lack of adequate preventive structure allows ignorance of unshakeable priorities – like bolstering the municipalities, gram panchayats, construction of fool-proof infrastructure, barring defective roads constructions caused by application of sub-standard materials, supporting holistic rural development along with construction – to fester.

The parties could have compelled to make their councilors, MLAs and MPS to ignore political machinations and invest their Local Area Development (LAD) funds for preventive construction. That would have effectively prepared the district managers get ready for the rains. What was required was a political will. The bureaucrats could have anticipated the possible disasters in advance and kept up the preventing measures well in place, taking the local councilors, MLAs and the MPs in the loop for the LAD funds. This would have been logical yardstick for efficiency for them.  

Gram panchayats in the entire Uttarakhand region could have posted their demands asking for rapid environment-friendly construction of new roads, barrages, drainage infrastructure, water harvesting facilities, construction of canals at strategic locations, concrete shelters, food stalls all under the PPP models and care. Entrepreneurs, who aspire to earn some punya by casually funding for free food stalls, shelters, blankets and other logistics, could have worked in a systematic coordination with the PPP models of development work. Barring a few road repairs and construction, Uttarakhand region remains almost exactly where it was during the British times. Over the last 65 years, the state government could have applied quality norms to develop the region. It leaves us with what Edward Deming (1900-1993), the father figure of American Society for Quality (ASQ) who was the architect of Japan reconstruction after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki devastation, said in his Out of the Crisis, as management mantra, which we can interpret today as highly pertinent for the hill states:   
• Cordial communication with all people, including the councillors, MLAs and the MPs (irrespective of partisan interests), for aims and purposes of foolproof governance in the region.
• With the change in industries and economies, which always happen, modify the governance styles accordingly, but keep the aims and purposes unchanged.  
• Take care of every minute detail about an action for the aims and purposes of development. Even a small tiny screw is important for a barrage and make sure it is there well-fixed in place.
• Award contracts not by price tags, but by keeping trust and loyalty factors in mind.
• Institute work-place training for boosting skills and efficiency.
• Stop inter-departmental rivalry or conflicts.
• Focus onto putting systems in place and build up morale of people at work.
• Introduce selfless leadership methods to improve processes for every small goal.
• Let workers feel proud of their work, stop exploiting them and pay them their remuneration on time. Educate them on self-improvement programmes.
• Put a stop to cultures of bribery or cuts in awards of contracts, politically and administratively.
• Make the people of the region the stakeholders in development.

It is the system, or absence of it, is what should be made accountable. Char Dham disaster has proved once again that in India we are far behind in implementing world-class quality
systems and checks and balances within governance.

What the governance in the hill states does today is ‘management by results’, which, as was said by Deming, are for ‘special causes.’ But that is confusing and temporary. What the governance should instead look at is management of ‘common causes’. Indeed, as Deming insisted, ‘Quality starts in the boardroom’, that means, at the foundational planning level itself. IPA
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