India Uncut

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Red tape after a catastrophe

Bobby Jindal, who almost became governor of Louisiana and is now a Congressman there, writes in the Wall Street Journal about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:
There have already been a number of instances in which an overly inhibitive bureaucracy prevented an appropriate response to the disaster. For example, on Wednesday of last week a company called my office. With only three hours before rising waters would make the mission impossible, they were anxious to send a rescue helicopter for their stranded employees. They wanted to know who would give them a go-ahead.

We could not identify the agency with authority. We heard that FEMA was in charge, that the FAA was in charge, and that the military was in charge. I went in person to talk with a FEMA representative and still could not get a straight answer. Finally we told the company to avoid interfering with Coast Guard missions, but to proceed on its own. Sometimes, asking for forgiveness is better than asking for permission.
Jindal lays out some more examples of red tape in his article, and suggests a solution:
[W]e need, in the future, a single, strong leader with the power to override the normal process restrictions and get things done. That individual must be identified from the very beginning. But below that person, other individuals up and down the line need to know they can make obvious and sensible calls in an emergency.
That is exactly the reason that many people, including Milind Deora, are calling for Mumbai to have a strong, empowered mayor in place who can guide the city after a disaster like the recent floods. That is needed at the national level as well, where a single individual should have the power to coordinate all disaster management in a crisis. We have much the same problems in India as the ones Jindal talks about, and need to find a way to cut through the red tape. Assigning responsibility clearly and streamlining processes is the logical way forward.

Cross-posted on Cloudburst Mumbai.
amit varma, 11:43 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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