The Indian Bureacracy's Learnings from the COVID-19 Pandemic Must Stay With It

COVID-19 resulted in an unprecedented challenge. Plans had to be revised and modified frequently and decisions documented in the best possible manner.

The first positive case of COVID-19 was detected on January 27, 2020. The nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, 2020. Over the next many weeks and months, the country saw rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, public fear leading to suicides and community aggression, resistance to testing and a bulk of myths and misinformation adding to the existing chaos and uncertainty. Businesses came to a halt and people were forced inside their homes with limited to nil opportunities for celebratory interactions or events. We learnt to appreciate and be immensely thankful for the service healthcare workers provide to us, while risking their own health and family’s lives.

However, through all these months, while we have thanked doctors, nurses, sanitation workers, policemen and our elected leaders for putting our lives above theirs in the face of challenge, we have completely overlooked and missed appreciation for the faceless administration that showed up to work each day of the lockdown and after to ensure things moved and plans executed.

Behind all efforts of healthcare, public advisories and guidelines, communication and initiatives for COVID containment, hundreds of Government officers and administrators have been at work day and night each day, learning from research, listening to experts and then devising  a plan to manage the chaos. Most of these administrators are more than 50 years of age, with families of older and younger generations put at health risks alike.

COVID-19 resulted in an unprecedented challenge, on fronts of healthcare, social development and economy. Plans had to be revised and modified frequently and decisions documented in the best possible manner so that months from now each decision is backed by contextual reasoning and evidence. It is important to keep in mind that none of the usual working of the governments could be put on halt during any of this. As a consequence, the entire hierarchy, from the district administration to the State leadership, stretched hours to be available on calls/ email/ texts 24 hours of each day, including Sundays. While masks have been mandatory in offices, visits from citizens for urgent and necessary services and grievance redressal could not be put on hold. Visits to understand and manage community resistance to containment and testing due to misinformation were crucial and need of the hour.

As a result, through these months, multiple officers and staff became COVID positive, got hospitalised or isolated and showed up to work the 14th day of the test to pick up where she/he had left. Sampling became routine and it is still rare to hear anyone complain of being exposed when many professionals continue to work from home in light of the risks present.

The scope of improvement in governance and service delivery is no secret. Yet, at a time such as this, the bureaucracy and the entire administration which has worked tirelessly to manage and contain the pandemic and its consequences, deserves our appreciation and gratefulness. As we slowly and hopefully pass the worst of the pandemic, we hope that the learnings from this period stay with the community and the administration to improve on all workstreams and lives going forward.