PM Modi must take governance back from babus

The Government of India circulars during Covid-19 have become a regular comprehension hurdle. Whoever is writing them needs a lesson in simple communication. The gem of course being Para 2 of the Home Ministry circular on 3 May, which, incidentally, was issued to clarify an earlier missive. This is how this clarification on the movement of migrants (title of said document) went: “It is clarified that the MHA orders are meant to facilitate movement of such stranded persons who had moved from their native places/work places, just before lockdown period but could not return to their native places/work places on account of restrictions…the facilitations envisaged in the aforesaid orders is meant for such distressed persons but does not extend to those categories of personas who are residing normally in places other than their native places for purposes of work etc…” This led adman Suhel Seth to quip on Twitter: “This is fast becoming Kaun Banega Clearpati Challenge.”

The problem of course is that if the message is confused so will be the missive. If you do finally manage to decipher this very convoluted missive, one simple truth stands out— this is not meant to facilitate the movement of migrants at all. They don’t fall into the definition of distressed here. Rather they are the “category of personas” (whatever that means) who are “residing normally in places other than their native places for purposes of work” and thereby exempted from travel. The travel loophole only applies to, say, a daughter living in Delhi who had gone to Udaipur to visit a sick parent and was caught in the lockdown. Not the migrant worker who had left his native place in Bihar to work in a unit in Delhi that had locked down, and rendered him both homeless and jobless. Of course, I could have easily interpreted this wrong, because clarity is not the cornerstone here, but this is my takeaway.

Also, interesting to note is that this clarification was issued against the backdrop of an earlier 29 April circular instructing states to “mutually agree” upon organising bus services from point of origin to their native places. When this didn’t work out as planned, given the long distances involved, the buck was passed onto the Railway Ministry to organise special trains. And we all know how the babus messed that up with their Rs 50 surcharge for special trains. Why is the Prime Minister letting all this happen on his watch? That Narendra Modi, the Master Communicator, should let himself be wrapped up in bureaucratic mumbo jumbo is a mystery in itself. Not to mention the fact that he scored a major self-goal by allowing the Congress to walk away with the narrative when Sonia Gandhi asked Congress governments to bear the cost of the tickets for the homeless migrants. Maybe the PM should spend some of his lockdown time watching reruns of Yes Prime Minister before the bureaucracy does a Humphrey Appleby on him.

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