Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Communication 101

It happened in Tamil Nadu, and now here. Communication could have made a massive difference. In both cases people in authority knew what was coming. In both cases they couldn’t get the news out quickly enough. Or in this case they didn’t at first. In such cases you can’t stop certain damage, but you sure can limit it with a well-timed warning.

On the Konkan trail while the rains smacked into Mumbai, I had first-hand experience of how coordination within the transportation sector works: it doesn’t. No one knew what was going on. To be fair it was a tough time for planners of routes, but with the little communication and wild rumors abounding, I found several familiar faces in bus stands in different states as we attempted returning to Bombay. We rely on hope and ourselves to survive. It’s a lousy way to live. And it all came back to one thing: communication. How soon can they communicate developments? Can they do it efficiently?

There’s another kind of communication: sending out the right signals. Lately, they’ve been quite off. Johnny Joseph replies to a question about Mumbai’s readiness with a not untruthful reply about the cloudburst being a freak occurrence, but doesn’t say much about what we’d really like to know. Are we prepared? Actually, that’s an easy one. And will we ever be or will we ever hear of things on time if the bureaucracy isn’t streamlined? Here’s what Thakur Prasad, the director of the Cyclone Warning Centre in Mumbai, had to say about why he didn’t inform television channels to put out a general warning about the cloudburst, as well as why he couldn’t break protocol:
“They come only when they want to. Also, we have our own system of information dissemination … Our duty is to inform the government and the various control rooms, and then it’s for them to take action… the TV channels will not listen to us, they only want sensational news, because that suits them. They are not interested in serious work.”
Though his interviewer, Anil Thakraney, unjustly makes Thakur look silly in this interview, Thakur’s assumption about the media is a scandal. Yes, he’s right about the sensational bit, but to not provide information on the basis that the media won’t be interested deserves censure of the sternest kind. And yet, it seems like just the kind of thinking that is widespread in government. But perhaps that’s a little way away. What would help, in the absence of water pumps and clean drains and a solid infrastructure, is an effective information relay system. Just warn us quickly, for heaven’s sake. We’ll try and manage the rest.

This is cross-posted on Cloudburst.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

So is the govt now waiting for a plague to get on with its work? Perhaps we need a new mayor or municipal commissioner like Rao. There is a distinct lack of sense of responsibility among our politicians and the bureaucracy. The bureacracy cant be fired and the politicians know that even if the lose the next election ( which is so far away that by then all this will be forgotten anyways), they will come back and win the one after. And so the same cycle continues. Maybe its time to privatise the day-to-day running of the cities.

Rahul said...

How can we privatise the daily running of the cities unless the government decides to keep its own role small, where it sticks to basic governance? Though I don't see a change in the way government operates anytime soon, sustained pressure by the citizens groups and affected parties could prompt a few changes, but nothing as radical as I'd like. There is a mindset so fixed that replacing the mayor or municipal commissioner will only be a cosmetic move.

Privatisataion is the way to go. I give you an example of Dubai, which knew it had limited oil resources - they are due to run out in 2010 - so the sheikh created a strong infrastructure, which helped build a second city in the desert (everything behind the trade center along the highway, for all who know Dubai) when businesses decided to move there. His rule was simple: create a good infrastructure, and the money will come. Bombay could do with this kind of thinking, but my guess is it won't happen for a while.

Rahul said...

I meant to write this in the second last line: His rule was simple: create good infrastructure, and the money will come; and then there's no reason to interfere with what businesses are doing unless its absolutely necessary.

arZan said...

nice post.

Check out my views on a similar theme here

arZan said...

Here is the URL
http://www.wadias.in/site/arzan/blog/archives/2005/07/disaster_manage.html

Rahul said...

Thanks Arzan,

checked it out. Who is responsible for ensuring the drains are clean? And even if they are clean, does that ensure that water will drain into the sea quickly? Asking because responsibility seems to be murky around here.