Why discuss the pros and cons?

Kayem blogs at Never Mind Yaar and writes on a variety of issues pertaining to our society and its strengths and weaknesses. She is an NRI living in New Zealand, with a heart that beats for India and her people. In her own words, ‘affirming and celebrating the ordinary, mainstream, middle class Indians alongside stories of extreme poverty, male chauvinism and superstition help to give a more fully rounded picture of India as it really is.’  She has published a book  ‘Never Mind Yaar’.

In this guest post, she talks about why any new idea should be given a hearing with all its pros and cons being discussed before relegating it to the dustbin as being unfeasible. Read on…

 

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The recently concluded Stayfree: Time to Change competition created quite a buzz on Indiblogger. What fascinated me were the many issues, according to the authors of the 370 plus posts entered for the competition that needed urgent attention in India.

Each post was a unique perspective on some serious issue like bribery and corruption, poverty, lack of infrastructure, the condition of our roads, the traffic congestion and fumes, an environment (soil, water and the air we breathe) that is polluted to danger levels and is ruining our lungs and the very blood that courses through our veins, illiteracy, child beggars, prostitution, slums in our cities, poorly enforced laws, education, women treated as second class citizens, lack of sports facilities, poor sanitation, poor civic sense malnutrition, illness. And there was one that spoke eloquently about the behaviour of youth with air hostesses on an Indian airplane.

I would say many of those posts are worth a visit. What’s very uplifting is that altruism is definitely alive, well and kicking in India. People are as generous and concerned as ever. Now we just have to figure out how to channel that desire to throw out the ugliness and neglect and bring in something that will prove to be long term and effective.

One of the posts suggested that we be given the option to deal with our government online. “Let us even pay our fines online”, said the blogger (Not his exact words. If I can find his post again from the randomly sorted 300+ entries, I’ll gladly put up the link). “If we do, who would have the guts to demand or give a bribe? Both the “giver and taker” would have a lot of explaining to do as the CBI would definitely want to know why a thousand extra rupees were deposited instead of the exact fine amount.

Sounds good on paper. Except, when someone who is cynical and suspicious of everything the government does or someone else who might be technologically challenged thinks to themselves – Why do they want me to pay online? I know, they’ll get access to my bank account and then steal all my funds. I will never pay them online. I’d rather go and pay cash. 

So we’re back to square one. A very worthy plan – to cut down on, if not eliminate, bribery – relegated to the dustbin before it’s even had a chance to take off. Why? Because there’s no buy-in from the ultimate user — the public.

There are some in the government who would resist this change too. Who, having made a tidy sum by accepting bribes, would like that ‘ability’ compromised? No siree! So they encourage the cynical, suspicious and technologically challenged nay-sayers by providing more fodder for their suspicions. “Let us scare these people so much that they are the ones who object and say ‘No’. We’d still come out smelling of roses. We’d still have the opportunity to continue taking bribes.”

This post isn’t about putting a damper on the idea of dealing with the government online. Far from it. It is to look at this very worthy idea from various perspectives. Individuals with various professional, social and technical backgrounds may have different perspectives too. The idea is to get as many people as possible to put forward their angle so that as many doubts as possible are cleared well before the ‘online’ plan is implemented. In fact, I would suggest, go one step further. Encourage the nay-sayers to speak up and reassure them that their doubts, whatever they are, would be considered very seriously.

That is the only way an idea, any idea, gains credibility.  

If we project only the pros and hide away the cons, there would be no buy in from the ones we try to convert to our idea, in this case, dealing with the government online. The end users would think of the minuses in their minds anyway and have no reassurance or answers to those negatives, doubts and question marks. Once their doubts are cleared they’d embrace the idea with enthusiasm as who, except the beneficiaries of bribery, wouldn’t like the chance to be rid of this curse in India.

Regarding dealing with the government online, I am sure there are many pros, cons and questions in any individual’s mind. We stop ourselves from speaking up and clearing our doubts for many reasons, the main one being, I’ll look stupid.

One word of caution here – there has to be a reasonable time limit for any discussion as otherwise the debate would rage on forever and nothing would get done.

In conclusion, arguments for and against a particular issue are a great feasibility exercise and should be welcomed with open arms. The more we have these debates within specified time frames, the more we actively encourage end users to give their views, the more their potential doubts are cleared before we implement our idea, the better our chances of success.

 

Image Courtesy: onsecurities.com

39 comments

  1. G.N. Balakrishnan · · Reply

    I would like to share a unique and rare experience dealing with Govt Dept. I applied for the UIDAI number in July, 2012. During April, some of my colleagues, who had applied for it as late as Nov or Dec, 2011 had received the UID no. . The promise at the time of registering was that it will be sent within 90 days. I shot out a letter to the concerned dept and explained the inordinate delay and informed them rather sarcastically that, being a patriotic and aged citizen (77 years), I hoped to receive my card before I breathed my last. Believe me or not, within about a week, I was stumped with a reply assuring that all the pending applications will be cleared and that i will definitely receive the card before end of May, 2012. To my utter disbelief, I received the ID card yesterday much ahead of the dead line indicated.
    The point I want to to make is that, Mr Nandan Nilkeni who is heading the dept has brought about a refreshing change in the approach of his subordinates. Pl understand that being from the private sector and that too holding a very high position in a prestigious organization, he has brought a sea change in the environment. There are of course quite a number of similar officers who take action promptly, but the number is astoundingly negligible. The work culture and mentality of the officials should be radically transformed. Whether we pay on line or directly all the fines imposed, will not solve the problem, as rightly commented by some one, on line payment of fines touches only a wafer thin fringe of the problem, as PC literates is concentrated only in urban India and that too very a negligible proportion.

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    1. Thank you for your response and thank goodness for people like Mr. Nandan Nilkeni. You are right on both counts. People of quality do exist and payment of fines is only a minuscule problem in our government.
      This post is about discussing the pros and cons of a project undertaken by anyone, whether in or outside government. The example I used, “Payment of Fines Online”, had a “pro” column and a “con” column. The discussions in the comments section generated quite a few of both. Such a discussion helps the owners of a project decide their next course of action.
      Finally, (even if this isn’t related to the post), like you, I can’t help hoping that the work culture and mentality of officials is transformed. With people constantly making that wish clear to the government, not only through what we all write, not only through our use of the media to convey our wish but also through well thought out and united action plans, the government will be forced to sit up and listen as it did for a few months in 2011.

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  2. I have had good experiences with online transactions. You can get a PAN Card, apply for your passport, pay bills, shop online, do online banking and many other wonderful things online these days. Just like anything else, there are safeguards to protect ourselves against frauds here too. And, I have even filed my mil’s returns online without a hitch. The income tax website is one of the best in the country. Now, about the point of inviting discussion. Of course, that is the way to go ahead in a democracy. But, it can often end up becoming a wild goose chase because we love to debate. Debates must by governed by a time frame, but the final authority of decision making has to rest somewhere. And, the fault always is not lying with the public servant but with the readiness with which we accept that bribing is the way forward.

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    1. That you’ve had good experiences with online transactions is encouraging. At the same time others here haven’t. The project owners would have to come up with a plan to reassure them.

      I totally agree that the ultimate decision after the discussion rests with the owners of the project. At the same time the success of their project rests with the ones who they hope will use their product or system. A discussion gives them insight into potential objections to their project well before it is implemented.

      A discussion is created through a variety of forums. If it is online (as it would be for the above example of paying fines online) people wouldn’t have to come face to face and there’d be no heated exchanges, name-calling, slanging matches, chappal throwing or dogged digging in. Instead, each person would get the time and opportunity to have their say.

      Re who is responsible – bribe givers or takers, one wouldn’t exist without the other. So the onus has to be on the givers to stop. I hope there is much discussion 🙂 as to what the bribe givers should do if they feel cornered. For example, if they need some documents urgently.

      Finally, Rachana, I appreciate your many-angled response. Thanks.

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  3. Have you ever tried transacting online on a Government site? It’s a maze, with brightly lit links blinking angrily at you.

    My husband was warned against filing his returns online by his financial advisor. I wouldn’t want to list why, on a public forum.

    The point is a Government officer demands bribes because he knows he”ll get it. He has the power to make your files disappear and set you up for a wild goose chase.

    A transparent system might help and wresting power away from the powerful will definitely help.

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    1. This post is about discussing the pros and cons of a project, any project, Purba. Having the discussion here threw up your doubts and worries about the online project and that is exactly my point. Before implementing a project, any project, discuss it with the end users. Before going ahead with it, clear their doubts and it will be a success. If you can’t clear their doubts it might be better to let it take a different direction or even abandon it.

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  4. First, I agree that a live debate would create bedlam where a large number of end users are involved. The point is to carry out the survey in the best format possible – (a live debate, a public forum or even an online questionnaire) – so that one way or another, potential users are able to express their doubts and queries.
    Second – That online payment of fines would be for a small percentage (even so, a large number) of the public with internet access, is a definite minus for that particular project. (This fact was thrown up expressly because of the discussion of the pros and cons at this forum on Cybernag.) Someone else might have a reason why it would still be a worthwhile project. Eventually, it is up to the initiators of the online project to weigh all the pros and cons that would be thrown up in their discussion with end users.

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    1. Another thought that struck me Amit – input from your software engineer friends re why exactly they have this fear from a technological perspective would not only help potential end users get more insight, it might help the owners of the ‘online’ project understand why the tech savvy think their project might or might not succeed.

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  5. A well meaning post! A few things that need to be considered. India is a very heterogeneous country with multitude of poor with no access to technology! A buy in for all stakeholders is necessary for success of any project eg Delhi Metro despite huge hurdles in the way! Aadhaar is yet to take off due poor buy in ! Simplistic suggestion even though well meaning remain ideas on paper unless majority stakeholders accept and this can happen only with education which is sadly missing:(

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  6. I have friends who are software engineers and who are scared to do an online transaction. Can you believe that?
    Paying your fines online will not work unless everyone has access to internet which is difficult to implement in rural India. In cities as well, a lot of people do not have internet access.
    There must be public forums where people should be asked thier “opinion”. I do not think a debate helps because 1000 people will have 1000 ideas and no conclusion will be reached. That is why we elect our representatives who should make sure that they are aware of the opinion of people they represent and then make an informed decision. Sadly that seems to be light years away.

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    1. Amit, My response to both you and Rahul is after Rahul’s comment.

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  7. KayEm, I agree with you in that an idea should be given due consideration rather than done away with summarily, either for lack of concern or due to grave concerns of those with vested interests. It is true that the corrupt will eventually find their way around the obstacles raised with abundant caution. However, that shouldn’t stop us from evolving better methods to counter them. I do like the idea of making most payments online, with an option of offline mode for those who cannot do the same for various reasons. Compared to five years ago, I am paying 99% of my bills and utility charges online. It has not only saved me from a lot of blues on account of flitting around, waiting in long queues and arguing with irritating clerks , but taken an immense loads off my mind also. Yet, online payments are not without pitfalls. Some of my colleagues have had their credit card details stolen when they used a malware infected terminal at our office. They have been billed for bogus transactions to the tune of USD 300 and more. This apparently means you need to know what you are doing on an online terminal. What I want to say is that there will be pros and cons to most situations and due thought needs to be given to these before jumping the line.

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    1. Uma, if your cr card details haven’t been stolen and theirs have, wonder what firewall you use. To lend credibility to the idea of using online payment facilities, we (especially the tech challenged like me) do need to be informed about that side of things. Offline is unavoidable as so many in India don’t own computers.

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  8. Well pointed that KayEm. Every coin has two sides to it, we should always remember that one persons craziness can be another persons reality. To reject an idea or proposal without any discussions or healthy arguments can indeed prove to be quite detrimental to the growth of the society at large. The habit of free expression of your ideas and opinions without any hesitation or fear of sounding stupid at the same time also understanding others viewpoints as well is something that should be encouraged right from a tender age to help things in the right directions.

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    1. Thanks, Arti. Re giving kids the skills to negotiate without feeling threatened, I so agree with you. As for understanding other viewpoints, the benefit to us is that we’d gain insight into how our own idea can be tweaked to its maximum potential.

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  9. AlkaGurha · · Reply

    Indians love arguments but they shy away from dialogue. Everyone has an opinion and they dont want their opinions to be questioned.But dialogue is the only forward as you rightly point out.

    A very cogent post by KayEm.

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    1. Indians love arguments but shy away from dialogue. Ouch, Alka, that is hard. Hopefully not all Indians. True leaders keep the bigger picture and the object of the exercise in mind – not their desire to win an argument at all cost.

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  10. Kay Em–first of all, a neat post. Yes, sometimes I am so frustrated when I see someone’s idea being crushed without much thought or reflection or dialogue–no pros and cons discussion. You see, what I find in the pros and cons weighing and emerging is that the idea itself grows in maturity and each part slowly takes ownership over the idea and at the end whatever the postion it becomes a community position on a situation, not an individual “brilliance.” But as Amartya Sen “Argumentative Indian” tends to sit around on rhetorical conversations founded on who wins through the finest rhetoric.

    May I add one more fine tuning to the pros and cons piece that I personally use? When I have an idea or thought or decision to make–I first create table on paper–one side “if this idea was adopted” and the other side “if this idea was not adopted”. Then for each side, I list out both pros and cons. The result is even more amazing–not only for logical and practical unraveling but for emotional unraveling too!

    I guess what is always needed is humility, an ability to listen to the other, to avoid ego traps and learn to use the other’s perspective as resources for the benefit of self and society.

    I loved your post and your writing style–absolutely enjoyed it. Kudos to Zephyr for introducing us lazy readers to the best that blogosphere has to offer!!! Thank you Zephyr!

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    1. Thanks Bhavana for both, your compliment and your suggestion. I really like the idea of discussing the pros and cons of adopting / not adopting an idea. It makes our ultimate decision easier.

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  11. Thought provoking…and here goes the provoked thought..albeit slightly tangential…We have a culture of praising to the skies and then when disillusionment sets in of dropping from an altitude where nothing is left of even the shattered pieces. Also to discuss the cons of our cultural context, we do not believe in balanced discussion. Every con to the pro listed is seen as a personal assault to the integrity of the person who mooted/implemented the idea. The Pros have definitely a number of takers for credit. In such a lopsided system, despite being a democracy, a discussion on pros and cons means a piece of legislation or a process just never takes off or sees piecemeal implementation. I have been thinking about what could be the solution and the way I see it, ‘progressive states’ where the naysayers too are constructive enough not to object a good deed, implement schemes/programmes and the stupendous success will force the slaggers to do it too, making it a nationwide phenomenon…:D Oversimplification..hmm??

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    1. I would neither call it over simplification nor a stroke of genius till we discussed the pros and cons of a suggestion. Having balanced discussions, criticising tactfully and taking criticism positively would definitely help us decide.

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  12. A very well thought out response. Deserves a, hopefully :), well thought out rebuttal. Hope radio talk shows and television are taking note of your suggestion. I have seen quite a few spirited debates. But twenty years ago we were meek as and there wasn’t a peek out of us. Today the online community is vibrant and active. I would say that is progress and in the right direction. But if we wait for the government to become active and functioning we’ll wait a long time. It is up to we, the people to ensure they function. I agree we, as yet, don’t know how to agree to disagree. But have to add that Anna’s movement is the exception. Their latest – they’ll have a discussion online and request groups of people throughout India to send in their doubts and questions about the discussion weekly. All we need to do is form a group along the lines they’ve suggested at iac.

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  13. An always relevant topic for us argumentative Indians 🙂 I guess a good reason to consider pros and cons is that there are always pros and cons to a matter! Not to mention, one man’s pro is another man’s con.

    One of the ‘issues’ we have as a society in India is that we don’t have effective public forums to debate things that need to be debated. Elected representatives of the people of course have the floor of the parliament – but I wonder how many of them even understand the position of the people they represent, and likely an even lesser fraction of them actually show up for work.

    As for public forums, there aren’t any methods for the average citizen to let their opinions be known in a constructive way. For example, much of the public opinion in the US is vented through calling into radio talk shows, on television, online and importantly through local organizations which have mobilized themselves for this purpose. We in urban India have no such recourse as yet, though pockets of online movements are emerging. This makes it easy for politicians to subvert proceses and engage in obstructionist tactics – until public rage builds up and boils over occasionally – kind of like how Anna Hazare’s civil society movement started off. When you let public rage build up, it’s hard for coherent voices to be heard and debates to fruition and such movements usually end up in getting involved in shouting matches and calling names.

    Having said all this, one of the great things about India as a country is – we usually do things by “consensus”, however long it takes. It’s not easy to force anything down people’s throats around here. Which means that when something is accepted, it usually stays accepted. Contrast that with China which is forever in a fragile state of equilibrium – not withstanding how solid it looks – because decision making over there is not consensual but prescriptive.

    I would love to have an active, functioning govt first. And then deal with the more pleasant problem of figuring out if I want to transact with them online or not later 🙂

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  14. Thanks R’s Mom.

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  15. The more we have these debates within specified time frames, the more we actively encourage end users to give their views, the more their potential doubts are cleared before we implement our idea, the better our chances of success. – Perfectly said KayEm…I wish people understood that…sometimes even in our day to day lives, its important to remember this..unfortunately we dont 😦

    Loved your take on the topic!

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  16. I like the idea of paying up fines and penalties online, but given the comparably low internet usage in India, I don’t quite see how it can be implemented without loopholes. Most bills in India are passed with several vociferous debates (unless they are about increasing the salaries of MPs which gets passed unanimously). The biggest advantage or a disadvantage is the presence of a healthy opposition which I do believe considers pros and cons or atleast usually are anti-government. We are witnessing in our age, the debate around the Lok Pal bill, the passing of the RTI act. If the parliament does not do its job of debating well, I am sure, the media and India as a nation will rise to get things in the right way.

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    1. Many Indians not having computers is definitely a minus for the idea of paying fines online. This post suggests we thoroughly weigh up both pros and cons for the idea – for any idea. I totally agree with your last sentence, thanks Richa.

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      1. Nice post. Very good idea to pay fines , and all other stuff online. Not having a computer is not a problem. E-seva / kiosks are everywhere, or lots of agents will do it for a small fee, as they do in railway bookings.

        Parliament in India has no time to debate. They have time only to prove dramatic upmanship, and score political points from gullible voters.

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        1. Not sure if that is a “Pro” as a small fee on top of a fine might not be acceptable to many. Still, a useful point for the owners of the project to debate. As for politicians, sad but true about their priorities being so totally skewered.

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  17. If the discussions are anything like the ones we have on TV, nothing will ever come out of it of course and the government will push its own laws through without so much as even a discussion in the parliament.

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    1. It is this very indifference of the government to the will of the people that we need to make efforts to change. If we give up without trying, it is guaranteed their indifference will never change. We cannot remain a billion lone, complaining voices. We’ve got to become a united, billion strong force for them to sit up and listen as they did for a few months in 2011.

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  18. debajyoti · · Reply

    totally agree with you. Ideas, suggestions or criticism should be welcomed with an open mind to understand everyone’s perspective. Excellent post!!

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    1. Glad you agree. Thanks, Debajyoti

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  19. The people who take bribes, whether in the govt. sector or private sector (yes it happens there too) are actually taking a huge risk. All I can say is, when people break the law for some personal advantages, they will be taken advantage of. There are always bigger criminals and law-breakers.

    While I appreciate your opinion that we need to discuss and brainstorm the various possibilities, it is also important to actually get down and do something for the cause we believe in. There is no point in giving hundred ideas and forgetting about all of them the next day. Even if a small idea is guided through to execution, its a big achievement.

    Destination Infinity

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    1. Bribe takers do realise what you say and have probably weighed the pros and cons. Unfortunately, we all know they still go ahead and take bribes. It is the bribe givers we need to convince that paying fines online is to their benefit. And you are right – discussions should not only have a time limit, ideas should be converted to action. Implementing ideas is easier if we get together with other like-minded people, devote a realistic hour or two a week to our cause and have a well thought out action plan.

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    2. It’s a small loss for bribe givers, and its over right there. Perhaps you have no idea of how people who take bribes are made into the puppets of larger criminals/law-breakers. Bribe takers have no idea of what they are getting into, until they are neck-deep into the mud. Of course, they do get financial incentives. But they are made into zoo animals in cages which needs to be occasionally fed with a small amount of money.

      Any freethinking man or woman would not want to be in their situation.

      Destination Infinity

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      1. Three points – Hopefully the bribe takers will think of the consequences you mention before they even start getting into the game.
        – Whether a big amount or small, bribe giving and taking is a criminal offence.
        – If we pay our fines online, it is convenient, it is honest and it is the exact amount. We don’t end up depending on the greed and strangling grasp of bribe takers who vary their demands depending on the nature and urgency of the work we need done.

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      2. I wonder how you have omitted the possibility of people paying bribes to escape the heavier fines?

        It’s easy to blame the system and govt. employees for corruption but it is difficult to accept that the actual perpetrators and beneficiaries are reading this text before their computer monitors right now.

        Destination Infinity

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        1. To true, DI. All five fingers aren’t equal. In addition, fines cannot be arbitrary – depending on someone’s whim. Hopefully, online systems would eliminate that randomness and people would trust the system better.

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