Trust in local govt institutions engenders a more effective response
By Keshav Varma
The war against Covid-19 reminds one of the guerrilla warfare strategy adopted by General Mikhail Kutuzov against Napoleon, and by General Vo Nguyen Giap against the US in the Vietnam war. The strategy was to disperse, localise, isolate, contain, equip and attack. It was a winning strategy. Given the nature and enormity of the challenge and the pathogen’s shifty and evolving character, India’s strategy is resilient and flexible. We are learning and shifting gears as we move forward. The idea of dispersing and localising the campaign to the districts and villages is significant and well thought through.
Our system of district administration is uniquely structured and equipped to come together during crises and disasters, and has time and again proved its efficacy, resilience and efficient delivery. Furthermore, it provides space for leadership and inter-departmental convergence. It is also built to align itself with the directives of the Centre and the state governments. District and city administrations are doing an amazing job in absorbing, coordinating and managing the crisis. The sheer scale and diversity of the effort they have been able to launch is truly commendable.
They have mobilised different stakeholders cutting across caste, political affiliation and religion, and converged philanthropic support and participation in managing home quarantine for thousands of migrants, ensuring medical coverage and providing food packets and dry rations to the poor and destitute. District administrations have roped in NGOs, CBOs and religious organisations to develop a multi-stakeholder support mechanism and a platform of partnership that celebrates the true meaning of India.
This is what distinguishes us from other countries, and might make the difference as we face and surmount this Herculean challenge. The faith in the institution is what binds people to lend support to the local administration.
I do understand that the system is still to achieve optimum efficiency. Remarkably, we have less than 1.3 lakh cases in a country of 1.3 billion people.
As director for Urban Development and Disaster Management at the World Bank, I had overseen the redevelopment of Aceh after the devastating tsunami of December 2004, in which, 2,67,000 people lost their lives, and the entire island of Sumatra was ravaged. We not only had to rebuild fast and better but had to ensure that the process healed the deep mental and physical wounds. It took six years to complete the $2.5 billion programme to resurrect Aceh.
The locally-driven strategy was the right way to move forward. The 1994 plague in Ahmedabad had created a similar panic and could only be contained with the support of the local NGOs and CBOs. The municipal corporation staff did wonders, which I see playing out now.
We used the crisis as an opportunity to drive transformational change that redefined the relationship of the City Hall with the citizens. Ahmedabad emerged as a model of professional urban governance and floated its City Bond without sovereign guarantee, which was over-subscribed. A new and sustainable paradigm of urban management emerged in Asia. It has been a matter of great pride for me to be associated with that change. One day soon, we shall overcome Covid-19. Let us all work together to end this global menace.
Chairman, Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation, & former municipal commissioner, Ahmedabad. Views expressed are personal.