In India, a hundred and thirty five people including infants died in the ghastly bridge collapse at Morbi, Gujarat a fortnight ago. The bridge originally built by the British was “refurbished” by Oreva, which is known for making clocks. The government had sanctioned ₹ 12 crores (₹ 120 million) but, Jaisukh Patel, the owner spent just ₹ 12 lakhs (₹ 1.2 million).
You would reckon that heads would roll for such a tragedy. You, gentle reader, would be wrong. Incredibly, Gujarat police has been unable to apprehend Patel, who is absconding. To satisfy public rage, two clerk level officials of Oreva have been arrested.
Another incident torn from yesterday’s headlines. A four-year-old patient in India’s premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) was served a cockroach with his meal after undergoing stomach surgery. This was the first meal he could eat after a major surgery.
The prestigious AIIMS is considered one of Asia’s best hospitals. And, I would agree that it is staffed by brilliant doctors. But, if you are unfortunate enough to use it, the hospital doesn't look like a premier institute. There is zero sanitation and hygiene.
Worse are the civil hospitals in India’s heartland where dogs roam the corridors and in some reported cases, even attack infants. What is the public action? A shrug of the shoulders and blaming karma (fate).
Recently, in Noida twin towers built by a private company were ordered to be blown up by the Supreme Court of India.
Let alone a debate about destroying an asset, which could be deployed for other use such as a hospital or a home for the homeless aside, there was no hue and cry. No official heads rolled.
The civic authorities and the police were presumably aware that two giant buildings were coming up without sanction. Clearly they preferred to look the other way after (who knows) huge pay-offs.
The twin towers were blown up, leaving huge debris behind but, no public action was taken against the corrupt government officials who allowed this illegal building to come up beneath their benign gaze.
Why am I citing these cases that happen with a dire and dreary predictably and are forgotten within two news cycles. Let me also cite the escape of jewellers Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi who defrauded public sector banks and fled India.
Nirav Modi is now facing British judiciary that is ordering that he face action for his financial shenanigans. Another fugitive Vijay Mallaya also fled India with desultory ease.
Would the officials who sanctioned the dud loans to the three super rich fugitives and the officials who let them escape from India face any consequences? Will there be an official public penalty that sends a message that being a crook in a position of authority is no longer acceptable in India?
The message that India keeps sending out on an institutional level is a shrug of the shoulders till the next tragedy unfolds. Officials know that the system is well oiled and they will face no public censure for their corrupt actions.
The other reason is the pride that India takes in “jugaad” a nearly untranslatable term which means a finagle technique.
If a tractor is used to make lassi (buttermilk) we are thrilled but, it also means a “chalta hai” (lack of responsibility for a product or process) and zero pride in quality.
Patel, who is responsible for the shoddy maintenance of the Morbi bridge, is effectively responsible for the death of 135 people, yet you would be hard put to find him in the Indian headlines. The reason the police can pretend not to find him is because there is no outrage.
Corruption barely evokes a yawn in India. Politicians who claimed zero tolerance for corruption and who talked big about changing the system are now enmeshed in the same deals.
If India has to truly realise its potential then we need swift public punishment for corruption. Zero tolerance for filthy hospitals where patients are fed cockroaches and a clampdown on momentous corruption after looting public funds and escaping. And, no more “jugaad”.
Let’s feel real pride in painstakingly 'Made in India'.