The Culpability of Bureaucracy

We have a system in place, a system that is well-defined, and (seemingly) robust. Besides the central and state governments, which have undeniably failed the country in the handling of Covid-19 crisis, the bureaucracy at every level has failed us too.

Not a single Indian can claim that s/he did not face avoidable hurdles, pains during the pandemic. Rules at the ground level and their implementation have been botched up resulting in uncertainty and panic. The first wave, which was not as deadly as the second, exposed the mismanagement, incompetence of our district administrations. Millions hit the road to return to their hometown, panic buying was widespread, calls on emergency numbers went unanswered, and from banks to fair price shops, every public office added to the misery of the common man.

Even today, police are meting out corporal punishment to alleged violators. Agreed, people violate the law, but the law of the land also mandates fair trial before punishing anyone. Secondly, punishment has to be proportionate to the violation committed, but cops thrashing people brutally over trivial violations are now a common sight. Where are police chiefs? They were recruited through one of the toughest exams designed to judge not just their knowledge but also their ability to cope with unexpected situations.

There are shortages of almost everything, from critical health infrastructure to funeral sites. A day or two of shortages could have been justifiable. But it’s been more than a year, and the administrations haven’t been able to bring normalcy back. Besides the shortage of vaccines, the sites where they are being administered are a mess. One books slots, but doesn’t get inoculated. One needs some medicine that can only be procured via a state department, but the delay caused by cumbersome formalities and indifference of officials results in patient’s (preventable) death.

We have so many officials from the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) in every single district. What are they for if they cannot manage things at such critical times? Aspirants spend years to ‘crack’ the civil services exam, but when it comes to delivery, they either lack will or competence or both.

The system has collapsed. Even small things like timings when the market will remain open are uncertain. Barring a few places, there is no special provision for elderly, physically challenged and other vulnerable groups. Does the administration assume that every Indian is financially capable, tech-savvy to order medicines and grocery over the internet? What is the rationale behind allowing the vegetable market to remain open for just a few hours every day? Will that control crowding? No, it will rather contribute to unnecessary crowding since the window has been shortened but household needs cannot be cut on the whims of someone.

The bureaucracy at every level stands accountable for this disorder. Government officials had the onus to prove their utility when time demanded. Now the time demands we rethink the bureaucratic arrangement of the country, and also the recruitment process used to fill these positions of power. Just think how many Indians are capable to book vaccine slots online, others just don’t exist in the eyes of the bureaucrats.