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Is it really a tortoise? By Minal Karanwal

“Like a tortoise carrying a giant elephant on its back.”

Perceptions is a very flawed sociological intervention. I define it as something repeated so often that it sounds like the truth. More so like what the parrot does. But are humans parrots? No. but do they believe in oft repeated statements without verification? Yes. And the above statement is one such case.

I have joined my district training in a small district of Bhandara in Eastern Maharashtra. Most of us probationers wait for our field training because that is primarily why we joined the ‘service’. We too have perceptions from before. How will we cope up with the administrative complexities, how will we fit in the hierarchy, how will we understand work: because trust me, nothing of this can be taught.

When I landed here, I thought of abiding by this advice a senior of mine gave to me in the service. She said, sit with the lowest level functionaries because they know a lot. I plunged in as directed.

My realizations after almost a month on the field? That this system of administration [bureaucracy as we know] is anything but a tortoise but it sure is carrying something as gigantic as an elephant on its back.

The word tortoise was used referring to its very conspicuous characteristic: slowness. In other terms, red tape, for which the bureaucracy is so often associated with. I disagree to the widest extent possible, and not because I am a part of the system now, but because I understand it was more than like just a bystander.

Any system in the world will have its own shortcomings. There is nothing perfect, not even the Corona Virus. It’ll have its end one day or another because of some shortcoming in the structure of the virus. but oblivious to this fact of nature, we make a ‘Sharma Ji Ka Beta’ out of everything. Our habit of comparing and counting shortcomings is so normal, that we hardly appreciate what we have. And in this quest of comparing, we do irreparable damage to your own child who doesn’t see any good in itself. This is what has been done to the civil services. By constant comparisons to either the private sector or to bureaucracies around the world, we have belittled our own child. We continue to undermine a system, that no doubt has its flaws [doesn’t every system does?] but is hugely responsible for sustaining a ‘state’ as we know of. Literally, right from our ‘birth certificates’ to everything in between that formalizes our existence as legal citizens, to our ‘death certificates’, bureaucracy manages everything. We might say that some points in the system [read people] might not be efficient, but its difficult to have everyone work at their optimum capacity. And most of the times, the system has owned up to its flaws and has been reformed from within.

Lets see 2 small [sarcasm] examples. My district has been fighting the corona pandemic since March. Its only in May that they registered their first case and are now nearing 50. The RRT teams that have been the ground soldiers have been tirelessly working. These include the ASHAs and the ANMs who do a house to house survey of SARI and ILI cases, twice a day. Mind you, with the mercury soaring, most of us cant bear the loo for 15 minutes. These include the BDOs and the Tehsildars who not only monitor but prepare databases for ready reference at the HeadQuarter level. Apart from corona, they are managing paddy procurement, new welfare schemes of their government, constant travel and marriage requests by people, and trying to keep things as smooth as possible. Then come the medical officers who stand with PPE kits in this hot sun to take samples and risk their lives every second. And then come the SDMs, CEOs and the DC. They monitor multiple sectors, visit containment zones, ensure that the lower level functionaries are keeping healthy. There are a ton of problems that arise daily and need to be reigned in immediately before the lives of several people are put at risk. Imagine we had to manage a locust attack in the middle of this crisis that was successfully dealt with by the system we are talking about. Now when I see most faces in the system, they are exhausted. But they continue to struggle with the same efficiency that they were struggling before. Its just difficult to advertise them all.

From every meeting ranging from contact tracing to rice procurement, every single valve of this system is attempted to be kept tight. But there will be times when the water finds its way to gush out. At that time most of us do not leave a stone unturned to criticize [sure, because it’s easy]. But what should ideally be done?

The only characteristic of the tortoise thar I sound in the system is that its old and experienced enough to manage and administer, to find its way and to still sustain the weight of the gigantic elephant on its back. Does it need improvement? Yes. But who doesn’t? or rather what doesn’t?

Lee Kuan Yew believed in valuing community rights over individual ones. He believed that even if the latter needs to be maintained, the former needs to be assured first. And in that the civil services has been the biggest aid.

We need to be more appreciative and filled with gratitude for what the system is doing for us. We can always pin point shortcomings but also do the former. APJ Abdul Kalam stated in his book, the Ignited Minds, that this country has more people interested in doing reviews than giving views. So let’s suggest the solution when we come across a problem than criticizing and comparing with ‘Sharmaji Ka Beta’.