“Fixes that fail”; Systems View of COVID-19
This is an analysis of the labour migration crisis from system’s view though one of the archetypes known as “Fixes that fail”.
Government of India declared Lockdown on 22nd March, 2020 that had unintended consequences of labour from various metros migrating to their home towns. These unintended outcomes were rectified by fresh measures to prevent migration but unfortunately further deteriorated into complex psycho-social dilemma and a crisis. This cycle of actions and reactions was repeated till some acceptable solution was arrived at. The situation should have been dealt with, in a more rational manner to stop migration or manage it effectively. Cause and effect and circles of causality (Figure 1 of fixes that fail) identify the problem with two feedback loops; Balancing loop B1 and Reinforcing loop R1. System’s view shows balancing B1 loop where in due to country wide lockdown due to COVID-19, the labour class working in metros e.g. Delhi, started migrating back to their home towns in UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and other states.
As the pandemic spread, migration numbers swell; depicted by ‘S’ in Figure 1; meaning rising migration rates which caused people to violate law and order. It forced the government to take harsh measures to prevent migration to protect people from getting infected. Steps by the Delhi government reduced the migration temporarily as shown by balancing part by ‘O’ in B1 loop. This was the first set of fixes or measures by the government that should have solved the problem. By these measures, part of migrating population was checked and stopped either within Delhi or at the borders of Delhi and UP. Since the measures put in place by the government were not strong enough, the impact multiplied and more labour started migrating as shown by ‘S1’ in R1 loop.
Multiplying effect led to people congregating at various places for buses and not finding them started hiring other means of transport or started walking along highways. Actions by the government, halted the migration temporarily but accentuated the problem with every passing day (time delay) called ‘Delay’ in Reinforcing loop R1 and it was visible on ground. Poverty and hunger added fuel to the fire. There was pandemonium across the nation and uneasy tension among Indians for inability of government to resolve the challenge could be felt. This impact is depicted by ‘S2’ in R1 loop. The entire issue is analysed with a holistic or ‘system’s view’ that says that for every problem, there are solutions that have to be assessed and applied in a holistic manner, failing which the measures fail and problem gets compounded. As problem gets compounded, further actions are initiated by the actors and situation improves only to worsen. The process continues till problem is resolved with a long time and suffering of people as penalty. In the instant case of migration, it could have been appreciated by administration and dealt with holistically before it became a social challenge. The police actions to maintain law and order became part of vicious cycle. Governments of Delhi, UP and Bihar got involved for their respective interests. State governments wanted safe return of their people from Delhi, Mumbai etc. and in the milieu, migrating people violated government rules of social distancing and lockdown, which led to Delhi government issuing next set of orders to improve upon previous orders to stop the movement (depicted in Figure 1 by ‘S”).
These are the remedial measures adopted by the government in R1 reinforcing loop and as shown by blue stars in Figure 2 based on feedback of the unintended consequences of the first set of corrective actions taken by the government.
B1 loop could have been closed with the situation balancing out and with no side effects. However, the loop caused delay in seeking solutions or the repercussions of the corrective actions by the government were not strong enough. As a result, the situation had side effects that required immediate attention of the government. Attempts of migrants to reach home earliest led to actions by the police, imposition of curfew, violation of curfew by migrating labour and social disharmony. This was not the desired outcome by the government and hence led to additional measures till situation was resolved. A graphical representation of the situation of Fixes that fail in Figure 2 shows improvement in the situation over a long period but with a dip after every action by the government.
COVID-19 has posed a crisis the world has not witnessed since Spanish flu of 1918-1919. It is an unprecedented history in the making. Indian government response and handling of the pandemic has been one of the best in the world. In the instant situation that India is in; threat of COVID-19 is a real one and the migration is similar to the one Lord Kṛśṇa faced. Facing the calamity of an impending terrible war he was able to move a large chunk of population from Mathura to Dwarika without much upheaval.
Government under leadership of Mr. Narendra Modi deserves accolades for serving the humanity and saving millions of lives in the country from COVID-19. The government administration has effectively managed spread of the pandemic and Indian response has been appreciated the world over. However, response to deal with the migration of labour, consequent to pandemic and orders of Lockdown, requires deliberations. The measures taken by the government to fix the problems ended up creating different yet more problems instead and logical planning to deal with socio-economic issues needed to be developed. Preventing migration was the right decision but survival package in places of residence was a must in such sensitive circumstances. A planned operation to keep the labour wherever they were and looking after them would have been possibly an effective way to deal with the reverse migration.
And if the decision of the Government was to move the labour back to their villages, this too could have been planned systematically and entire movement could have been made comfortable and rejoicing journey for the poor and homeless. Any more politics on the issue is detrimental to our very existence as a nation and our economy, as our survival base depends on these humble, poor, shell shocked silent migrants.
If Lord Kṛśṇa could succeed in his times, so can we in our times.
–Brig JS Rajpurohit, Ph.D. Group Commander, Group HQ NCC, Gorakhpur (UP)