Public (Dis)Services in India

It is too well known that the so called public services in India are anything but public services. It is also well known that the worst sufferers of the apathy of these services, which are paid for from the taxes collected from even the poorest, are the poor.It is also an unfortunate fact that successive governments since independence 69 years ago, have done little to make public servants earn their keep. On the contrary, public services have more and more been oriented to cater to those who wield political power or those having access to power centres.

Instances of denial of due services to the poor or those without influence with the right quarters are routine and legend but the one that takes the cake is that involving a poor tribal whose wife died in a Odisha government hospital and he had to carry the dead body on his back for 10 kms despite government orders that a free transport should be provided to transport the dead bodies of poor patients to their homes. After he had walked 10 km.with the body on his back and his 12 year old daughter by his side, he was noticed by some people who pulled strings with the local administration which then sent an ambulance to transport the tribal, his wife’s body and daughter to his village for the rest of 50 km.

What is more shameful is that the hospital was given a clean chit by the District Magistrate on the ground that the tribal did not ask for the transport.This despite the tribal’s claim that he made all possible efforts to secure help from the hospital authorities. Even otherwise, did the hospital not know that one of its patients had died, that the body would need to be carted away and that the patient’s kin were poor? Are all the patients admitted to the hospital or their kin expected to know all the rules that the hospital has to follow or the facilities that it is obliged to offer? Does the hospital’s responsibility end with declaring the patient dead?

In India, the authorities usually do not take cognizance of any matter, even if it is within their knowledge and calls for action, unless it is formally brought to their notice through a written report or through a specified channel. This helps keep hassles down to the minimum though public may suffer as a consequence. This is the principle that appears to have been followed in denying transport for carrying the dead body of the tribal’s wife and in issuing the clean chit to the hospital thereafter. The Indian public which pays taxes for the upkeep of services, however, deserves better.
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