After the recent fire at Mantralaya in Mumbai, many hold the view that the blaze was not an accident but an act of arson to destroy evidence in the case of the Adarsh building. This shows that the reigning opinion among citizens is that corruption is king, and that anything and just about anyone can be bought for nefarious purposes.
This tragic incident reinforces the need for digitization of all evidence and records across the board. The authorities appear to be clued in now and are making some noises about the need for backing up data. Backups are common sense standard procedures that are necessarily a part of any IT department and it is surprising to find that important files have not been backed up and are lost forever.
It’s hard to believe that a country that is quick to chant the “we are an IT powerhouse” mantra has not got around to routine digitization of all the public paperwork that is generated on a daily basis. Documents related to crime investigations and all legal documents especially need to be maintained in a digitized form from day one. It is imperative to put this into practice immediately. This will accomplish a few things simultaneously. It will make destruction of documents difficult. It will make things transparent and accessible to all parties. It will also help to check corruption. Chain of custody and diligent record keeping practices need to be enforced stringently to identify and hold people accountable when tampering is suspected, or when things go missing.
It’s also ironic that scanning of documents is outsourced by businesses to India. It’s time we did it for ourselves. The National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) could help to develop a pool of workers for digitization and maintenance of records as part of its goal to skill 150 million by 2020.
The fire also succeeded in highlighting that public safety is a non-issue in India. Disaster readiness on the part of both the nation and individuals appear to be absent. Basic things like fire drills are a part of every organization in the US. Safety issues are also addressed as early as kindergarten in the US. And Smokey the Bear, the official mascot of the United States Forest Service, created to educate the public about forest fires is known to every child. Citizens interact with fireman and police officials at events every year where safety literature is handed out and educational films are shown.
During a stint a few years ago at the Human Rights office in the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, I was astonished when the Mayor organized a pandemic readiness meeting that every city employee had to attend. This kind of planning is non-existent in India.
Increasingly alarming numbers of people are crammed into every available inch in every major Indian city. Construction is ceaseless. Wires hang dangerously low in every other street. Electrical workmanship is shoddy, as jugaad rears its ugly head. A reckless disregard for safety is visible everywhere.
India needs to wake up and start an aggressive safety awareness campaign nationwide. All public buildings must have manuals in place related to fire and evacuation procedures and conduct regular drills. Businesses need to include mandatory fire drills as part of their human resources policies. Schools need to ensure that children are taught about these things as early as possible. And individuals need to take ownership of their surroundings and act to make their lives safer. The casual nonchalance that marks the attitude of most Indians with regard to safety needs to change.