- OH WHAT A LOVELY DISASTER
Courtesy: K.R. Ravi, trainers forum
˜Disaster capitalism is a term invented in the US by Naomi Klein in the context of the Katrina natural disaster in New Orleans a few years ago. Klein came up with that term to suggest that an insidious strategy was evident to her in the way that disaster was handled. She suggests that it was an unstated objective of the government to so mishandle the aftermath of the disaster that at some stage there would be no option but to hand over rescue operations to the private sector who would then proceed to make billions of dollars.
I was reminded of this phenomenon when I went to buy medicines in a pharmacy attached to a renowned government hospital in Mumbai. When the clerk told me that the medicine I wanted was not available at his shop I asked him where I could get hold of the tablets. ˜"Sir, there is this shop called XYZ medical shop across the road. You will get it there" he advised me helpfully.
As I was walking towards that shop, an elderly man pulled me aside and told me, "˜Sir, there is a racket going on here. The hospital pharmacy is deliberately mismanaged so that the medical shops in the vicinity of this hospital flourish. It is common knowledge that the hospital authorities are handsomely compensated for this cooperation. Now I cannot confirm if such a racket exists.
It occurred to me that in the over 50 times that I have visited the hospital pharmacy over the years I have NEVER managed to get the medicines prescribed even by the hospital doctors. I now suspect that something other than random non availability of prescribed medicines was at play. Naomi Klein's concept of disaster capitalism seems to be working not just in the Mumbai hospital.
Considering that natural and man-made disasters are almost a daily occurrence in India would it be far fetched to suggest that the ubiquitous mismanagement that we see around us is really a well planned and excellently executed operation to hand over the economy and money making opportunities to private hands?
Take the Mumbai annual predictable ritual now close at hand. The monsoons are almost upon us and it is likely that in the next two months there will be a torrential downpour that will engulf the city and suburbs, life will be in disarray for days, rescue operations will have to be launched, roads repaired even if they were concretised weeks ago and vast amounts of money spent on relief etc. Tomes will be written, millions of words spoken about this annual disaster. Many will be in tears except businessmen, contractors, babus and politicians who will laugh all the way to Swiss banks. Dont believe me? Then read the news report that appeared last week. It appears that following the 26/11 terrorist attack on the city emergency measures were taken, equipment bought at high cost from overseas, only to languish unused in dirty unguarded godowns from where they will in all likelihood be stolen which in turn will be followed by fresh purchases in national security interests!
A glaring example was told to me by a senior executive of a public sector undertaking. It seems this PSU was bidding for a major chunk of a massive government contract. The other big bidder was one of India's biggest private companies. The PSU lost the bid to this big private sector rival. But here the story takes a bizarre turn - the big private sector giant outsourced the entire contract to the PSU!
However for the benefit of those who trace everything to an Indian source there is consolation. Naomi Klein may have given the concept a catchy name and I must admit Americans are probably the best at coining glib jargon. But the phenomenon of private sector being allowed to capitalise on natural and other disasters has been discussed in our country much before anyone heard of Klein. I can vouch for P Sainath who did an extensive study on this phenomenon and came up with a landmark award winning book ˜ Oh What a lovely drought˜.
When former Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi stated frankly that less than 15 paise per rupee of government social welfare schemes went to intended beneficiaries he was perhaps referring to disaster capitalism. Sadly his successors today are launching scheme after scheme that are received with glee by contractors, babus and netas.
When I discussed this article with friends they asked me if I felt that the mess in Air India fell into this category. What do you think?
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