Of Responsibility and Discretion

IITM is one of the country’s best undergraduate institutions, slowly maturing into a full-fledged university. Teachers at IITM are given as much academic freedom as they are likely to get anywhere in the country. In spite of this, IITM’s administrative policies are archaic, redundant and painful.

The mandate of the institute is to create a more responsible citizenry – one batch of 500 at a time – in this country. How do we suppose this will happen if we continue to treat the students at IITM as irresponsible miscreants or – worse – like children? Has anybody else noticed how many forms at the institute require your parents’ approval? Why should my mother sign a piece of paper that asks that I be transferred from BTech to Dual Degree? If I’m old enough to be enfranchised at 18, surely I’m old enough at 20 to decide whether I want to spend an extra year at IITM? Can somebody introduce the people creating these policies to ER Braithwaite, please?

Say I am TA-ing a course on aircraft design and am helping the students taking the course build RC airplanes. The number of hoops I have to (or, if I’m clever, have to make the students) jump through to get a motor from a vendor would make your head spin. The administrative policies that govern reimbursable purchases have been designed well – if they were to function for people with the ethics of AK Telgi. For students who are here to learn, or who couldn’t care less about Aerospace Engineering but want to do due diligence for the coursework, the policies are nothing short of draconian. Moreover, everybody enforcing the policies seems to take perverse pleasure in doing everything through proper channels, however hopelessly roundabout these proper channels may be. It’s easy to start feeling like everything but your breakfast is governed by procedural minutiae. Check that – you can only have buttered bread or sambar-idly for breakfast; not both.

It seems to me that this situation is pervasive at all levels of power or authority in the country. We seem to have become a country of micromanagers. I can think of nothing that exemplifies this more than the cases heard and judgements handed down by the Supreme Court. Arundhati Roy writes

The higher judiciary, the Supreme Court in particular, doesn’t just uphold the law, it micromanages our lives. Its judgements range through matters great and small. It decides what’s good for the environment and what isn’t; whether dams should be built, rivers linked, mountains moved, forests felled. It decides what our cities should look like and who has the right to live in them. It decides whether slums should be cleared, streets widened, shops sealed, whether strikes should be allowed, industries should be shut down, relocated or privatised. It decides what goes into school textbooks, what sort of fuel should be used in public transport and schedules of fines for traffic offences. It decides what colour the lights on judges’ cars should be (red) and whether they should blink or not (they should). It has become the premier arbiter of public policy in this country that likes to market itself as the World’s Largest Democracy.

What we are, then, isn’t the world’s largest democracy. We’re the world’s largest bureaucracy – a petty, power-hungry, opportunistic – and hence corrupt – bureaucracy.


3 thoughts on “Of Responsibility and Discretion”

  1. You know what they say… never let the truth spoil a good story. Also, that was the case well into our second year.

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