Saturday, June 02, 2007

Solving the Indian Puzzle of Public Services Delivery

I used to play crossword puzzles, but lately I have stopped. With the passing years, I find it harder to complete the puzzle. Similarly, I have always thought of our dealings with the government in India as a puzzle to solve. And as the years pass, the puzzle of the Indian government becomes more convoluted and illogical, difficult to solve in an honest way. Yet, one is compelled to play it if he/she wants to function in India.

Consider the telephone service. The Shanti Bhavan School we run in rural Tamil Nadu has a dozen or so telephone lines installed by the government-run monopoly. Each line is charged a fee of Rs. 125 per month – a small sum by comparison to the monthly fee paid in the U.S. The fee is charged regardless of whether the service is provided or not. That is the rule, according to the telephone department.

At any given time, one or more lines are not functional. It is not uncommon to have all lines cut off for several days. The reasons given are numerous and varied: vandalism, digging of road by other government departments (such as electricity, sewage, etc.), “improvements” being made to the service, or “exchange problems.” In most cases, we have to send a vehicle to pick up the linesman to detect and repair the problem. Unless the linesman is paid a “fee” for his services, problems will not be solved. If the fee is low, he is likely to make faulty connections (line disturbances, wrong number connected to your line, more than one line connected together, etc.) and we will have to bring him back to make further repairs.

Regardless of whether the service is available or not, the monthly bill must be paid. We receive the bill for all our lines, and if full payment is not made, all lines can be disconnected. There is no use complaining about it.

For over 3 years, one of the lines has not been operational. We have tried to get it fixed, but to no avail. We wrote to the telephone department not to charge the monthly fee for this nonfunctional line, but that too is declined. It is likely that this line has been made available to someone else.

Try complaining to higher authorities, and soon you will find more frequent problems with all the lines. Politicians are not interested in setting these practices right – either there is no money in it for them to get involved in such issues, or they are receiving their share of the “benefits.” I am not sure there is an honest way to solve this Indian puzzle.

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Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Abraham George,

i understand and respect that your efforts to eradicate poverty are concentrated on india. do you believe that something can or should be done to alleviate poverty in the u.s?

i have read somewhere that only 15% of philanthropic efforts go overseas. however it is also undeniable that the millions/billions meant to reach the impoverished in the u.s. are not reaching US.

i do not wish to compare poverties. homelessness, hunger, lack of adequate medical care, an inability to earn a livable wage are their own tragedies. and they exist here in the u.s. also.

also what is your opinion of charity? Maimonides gives eight levels of charity with the highest level being self-sufficiency. yet all eight levels include the concept of charity as doing for another what they can not do for themselves.

in this new wave of social capitalism, charity seems to be a "bad word".

i am in agreement that NGOs can bridge the gap between goverments failures and the needs of the impoverished.

i look forward to a reply. in such case i would like to communicate with you more directly.

Abraham M. George, The George Foundation said...

Dear Anonymous,

Please allow me to be brief and to the point.

1. The problem of poverty and its solutions for the US are very different from those of developing nations. Poverty can be solved with good leadership and clear communication of right solutions to the citizens. America is used to throwing money at ideas that require no hardship on anyone’s part.

2. Charity is a good concept to reduce suffering. NGOs can play a role with charity dollars. But the real solution to poverty is in finding ways to create opportunities for everyone. However, equality of opportunity is not the same as equality of outcome/condition.

3. Government is seldom the solution. Government can be a catalyst only. NGOs can play a small role. The private sector (with sufficient checks and balances) is the only one that can create the needed productive jobs.


dafna orly said...

Dear DR. Abraham George,

i am honored that you took the time to respond. i have made an attempt to identify myself with this post.

would you please clarify in post or email, "The problem of poverty and its solutions for the u.s. are very different from those of developing nations."

i have taken it to mean, "the u.s. has the resources to solve the problem of poverty and its solutions", yet does not do so.

did i understand your meaning?

further i have been placing a link to your blog and foundation on a site called "".

i often copy and paste your comments to this site since your belief system concerning the issue of poverty could enlighten many who are concerned with solutions both in the u.s and globally.

is it possible that bill drayton of ashoka, or pierre omidyar could be allies in your work?

please edit and delete my email if it is illegal to post it here: