Atanu Dey On India's Development

Misplaced Conclusions

“My uncle died sadly due to his habit of drinking tea?”

“That’s amazing! I have heard of people dieing because of alcohol. But tea?”

“Yes, tea lead to his death. He was crossing the road to get himself a cup of tea, and a bus ran over him. Tea caused his untimely demise.”

You may think it’s funny. But wait till you see the conclusion drawn from the following. This is from a report by my friend Priya Ganapati of rediff.com:

Jhunjhunwala cites a case where an email was sent to a number of government officials including the chief minister about a possible breakout of the small pox epidemic in a certain area.

Though the email was ignored by many, it finally did reach the right official and prompt administrative action to prevent the epidemic was taken.

“In Attapatti village, Veermani, a man with disabilities was unjustly dismissed from his job. He wrote an email to many government officials, one of whom finally took note and he was reinstated,” Jhunjhunwala points out.

You may not believe it but one is supposed to be persuaded that the above examples argue for IT-enabling of Indian villages. A moment’s consideration is all that is required to see that the conclusion is as asinine as blaming tea for the uncle’s release from this mortal coil.

If you substitute postcard for “email” in Priya’s report, then obviously the conclusion would have to be that what is required for rural development is a postal system. But wait!! We do have a postal system, don’t we? So what exactly does an email do that a postcard does not do?

Someone should clue these people in: emails and postcards are the means of conveying a message. Emails don’t suddenly make caring people out of apathetic government bureaucrats. The failures of government is not a technological failure and producing technical fixes for that is as effective as casting spells to fix a broken car.

One may say, “Well, emails are faster. And you can send it to a zillion officials.” Sure, you can. But so when everyone and his brother is sending a zillion messages to thousands of officials, the officials will also learn to file those emails under “T” for trash. You would be back to square one with the only difference being that money that could have helped with development ends up in the pockets of Bill Gates, HP, and Intel.

The bottom line is very simple. We need to ask where the failure is in the above examples. Then figure out a solution. And if in that solution we find that the use of IT tools is cheaper than any other method, we should use IT tools. Until then, all who are IT-trigger happy should sit on their hands and contemplate the universe.

{Deja vu? Indeed, this one is recycled :) }

  • T.Subramanian

    I had read the article brilliantly penned with alacratic simplicity trying to potray a complex problem in a simplistic style.
    The basic fact remains that, unless and until some one rises up due to his compunction and offers his helping hand there is very little that even the most sophisticated technology can offer.
    A great scientist once remarked ” man is the measure of everything” and this aphorism is self explanatory.
    So the dire necessity of improving the eugenics is to be not only revitalized but also invigorated. Positive and constructive and steps have therefore to be taken on this score/account
    T.Subramanian