Lessons from the Past 81: A Ministry of Minor Affairs
(This was written ten years ago – but is still relevant at present).
I admire Kiran Karnik for his insightful views on people and affairs. He was the head of NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies), for some years. In a recent article, he suggested that India should have a ministry of minor affairs. He says that it is minor matters that cause a lot of waste of time and money in India. And yet, no one has the time or inclination to try and solve these problems. I could not agree with him more!
He gives the example of the Delhi and Gurgaon highway. The toll road was built so that traffic can move fast, and people will therefore be prepared to pay for the fast track. Traffic does move fast, until they come to the toll station. Then, there is a pile-up. Because the toll is Rs21 - and most people do not have the small change. So, small change has to be given to all the drivers crossing. Would it not make sense to make the toll fee Rs20? Sure. But no one in authority is thinking about this. They perhaps do not pay a toll, because they travel in a car which has a red light! Lal batti is the open sesame for India’s powerful. (Today, even with the mandatory FASTag, we still have long queues at almost all toll booths.)
Why are our roads so crowded? Because of hawkers on the pavements. So pedestrians perforce have to walk on the road. And another lane, which could have been used by the motorists, is now a pedestrian walk. Is it not easy to clear the pavement, using the clout of the municipal corporation and the police? It surely is. But no one has taken this exercise seriously - and the hawkers know this. 
The occasional raid is cosmetic in nature. It helps to collect the periodic “hafta” and, at the same time, keeps the citizen content in the knowledge that something is being done. 
Many years ago, a British journalist wrote that India does not need more roads. It needs better management of the roads that already exist. He had observed hundreds of trucks on the kerbside of the Grand Trunk Road. He said one lane was completely unusable. If this lane was to be used, traffic would have moved much faster. But, traditionally, the kerbside was allotted, unofficially, for parking for short periods or long!
I had to get inoculated for yellow fever, to be able to travel to Ethiopia. My travel agent said he would make all the arrangements, except yellow fever vaccine (YFV). Why? You will soon know, he said. 
It was then that I found out that there were only two centers in Mumbai – one at Ballard Estate in the South, and the other at Sahar Airport in North Mumbai. Yes, only two! They take only 100 people a day. People have to stand in queue to get a token and be among the first 100, and be eligible to get inoculated. The tokens are given between 10am and 1pm. The inoculations start from 2pm to perhaps 4pm or 5pm. If you succeed in queue no1, then you will breeze through queue no2, and perhaps finish by 4pm… the proud owner of a YFV certificate!
There are people who have come from Delhi, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, who have stood or sat or slept on the pavement near the Sailors Club, from the previous night. There are those, like me, who have started out from the suburbs to be there at 8am. There are ‘bada sahibs’ who send their peons to be in the queue and inform the sahib to come only when they are five paces away from the token distribution centre or the inoculation centre. There are those who have paid the juice stall operator on the pavement (perhaps Rs300) to keep a place for them among the first 100. In fact, the stall owner now makes more money organising queue places, than on the juice that he sells. 
And why should these centers not be in at least ten cities in India? And why can we not import a larger quantity of these vaccines? Why can’t more personnel be deployed for such a semiskilled assignment? Why can’t there be at least six centers within Mumbai itself? Many questions… but no answers. 
This is how we keep creating fertile soil for corruption. We make simple situations, complicated. When we simplify the process—and this is not rocket science—we will all be happy, except the juice stall owner on the pavement. He will find that he is now in an occupation with a very low return on the work done!
Truly, there is much to be said for forming a ministry of minor affairs!

You may also want to read other articles from the author. Here is the link
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)
1 year ago
Very true. Such instances are aplenty in every part of our country. Will written.
1 year ago
It is the friction in everyday trivial transactions that leads to greasing palms and coruption. What we need is a mere Department of Trivial (not minor) affairs that after successfully introducing trivial hurdles and friction in everyday life wil becom elevated to a Ministry and renamed as the Ministry of Corruption - sorry, Ministry of Facilitation.
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