By Anirudh Prakash
One of the staple ingredients of vintage Indian movies was a slow motion shot of the hero and heroine bounding towards each other with arms outstretched from opposite sides of the frame. Because of the slow motion format, the twain seemed to take an eternity to meet.
A similar languorous pace of doing things characterises our national ethos. Two things seem to have little value in this country — human life and time. The former is understandable, considering that we are more than 1.2 billion elbowing each other for a slice of the almost non-existent pie. Even if a few hundred million fall by the wayside, the crowd will not thin. So, who cares if a hundred thousand persons die in road accidents every year? We breed much faster — ironically, the only thing we do at a rapid clip.
But time — that is something else again. They say time and tide wait for no man. We have learnt to outwait time. “What’s the hurry?” is the common refrain. Perhaps no other country boasts of chit chat over tea taking precedence over matters of import in the office. Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” truly characterises our procedures. It must be our agricultural genes. After all, once the ploughing and sowing is done, it’s a patient wait until the crop is ready for harvest. Nature can’t be pushed to hurry up. Our government offices present a Kafkaesque scenario of files moving so slowly that it almost seems the offices are a part of still photos. Ask the old gents who go for their pension papers or the BPL villager who wants to collect her ration card or the house builder who seeks approvals from civic authorities. One suspects the snail learnt its pace from Indian government offices.
Industrial projects take twice the time to come up in India as elsewhere. Partly this is to do with the welter of regulations but mainly because administrators take an eternity about clearances. They sometimes do wonder why the industrialists are in such a hurry; after all, one day the project has to start. Cost of time overrun — what is that? The price of time saved, now that is a negotiable parameter.
Recently there was news about a 30-storey hotel being put up in China in just two weeks. Indians cannot believe this. We are used to a different time scale: one storey a month and that too, without finishing; six weeks for relaying a stretch of footpath; one year for building a pedestrian subway; three years for a flyover and forever and ever for an irrigation project.
If questioned, the implementers counter-question: “What’s the rush? Are pedestrians not crossing the road now without an underpass? OK, a few of them get hit but is that a big deal? Even if the flyover is completed, will not the traffic get blocked at the next crossing?” The basic philosophy underlying the building of infrastructure in India is: “Complete yesterday’s requirement tomorrow.”
“Yatha praja, tatha Raja” is an old Indian aphorism stood on its head. The government has adjusted its pace according to the governed. The first set of economic reforms came four decades after Independence. Why should the next set be introduced just two decades later? The people in general don’t seem to be in a hurry, only a few impatient upper middleclass townsfolk and they don’t count in the electoral stakes. So, let GST, FDI, insurance and pension reform, disinvestment in PSUs, electoral reform, administrative reform etc. etc. remain, for the present, fodder for the editorialists. There is always an occasion for policy change but only after yet another reform commission has taken its own sweet time to file yet another report which gathers dust with its preceding peers in the gloomy recesses of government backrooms.
If the government can procrastinate, can Parliament be far behind? When filibustering, walkouts, sloganeering, filling the “well” and other obstructionist activities can get the people’s attention, what is the political gain in passing legislation? There is always the next session and the next, if anything urgent has to be dealt with. If the creation of the Lokpal has waited 40-years without the nation collapsing, what’s the harm in taking another few years to debate it?
But, perhaps, the epitome of our national ethos of tardiness is the judicial system. Its principle was aptly summarised by actor Sunny Deol in the Hindi movie “Damini” shouting in the court “Tarikh par tarikh, tarikh par tarikh miltey rahe lekin insaaf nahi hua” (got date after date but justice remained elusive). Indian courts are a gooey Treacle Land in which litigants, lawyers and judges move in ultra-slow motion and cases seem to go on and on even after the dramatis personae have bid goodbye to this world. Now that is slow motion beyond the laws of physics! INAV