Lessons From An Accident

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About a week ago on a Saturday, while heading for a breakfast meeting, I was involved in a 4 car accident. The taxi in front of me braked very suddenly when a couple of blind people attempted to cross the road resulting in 3 other vehicles braking and very unfortunately damaging each other. Fortunately, there was no injury except for bruised egos.

Then the saga began.

Needless to say, a crowd soon formed. Largely to enquire into what had happened, for what purpose I still don’t quite know. A traffic cop sauntered by, asked us to head to a police station and then disappeared. Colleagues of the taxi driver from the nearby IT park soon joined the crowd. Relatives of the other drivers soon arrived. A few of my friends too arrived including those I was supposed to meet.

It soon became noisy and raucous. Morning traffic started picking up resulting in a lot of rubber necking and therefore traffic slowdowns. A couple of cops then arrived on a motorbike, made some casual enquiries and also asked us to head to the police station under whose jurisdiction the accident location fell. A set of disturbing arguments then ensued about who was at fault, how someone knew some local bigwigs, how one mustn’t talk of the law (“We’re Indians, don’t talk about the law”), how perhaps we should all come to a compromise and the like. The managers from the taxi company arrived and wanted some compensation; Other drivers started making a song and dance about how the driver’s salary would be cut and how he would get penalized. And so it went on.

Finally, the 4 of us involved in the accident went to the police station. There we were told that we could follow one of three paths. First, we could all discuss and arrive at a compromise without involving the police; Secondly, we could each file a report in the station describing the accident and receiving an acknowledgement from the police for purposes of claiming insurance; And thirdly, we could file a FIR complaint with the police that would lead to us leaving behind the vehicles at the station, then awaiting inspection by the RTO and then filing petitions in the courts and waiting for them to pronounce a verdict. He gently suggested that we consider the first two options.

I also learnt in the police station that, legally, the vehicle in front isn’t ever at fault

After a whole lot of arguing, raised voices, threats, dada-giri (“’local MLA / inspector is known to me”), persuasion and discussion, it was decided to follow the second option of individually claiming insurance. The cab company opposed this and decided to leave the station after receiving a cash compensation from me for the slight damage to the cab. Finally about 4.5hours after the accident, I left for home in my damaged vehicle. Then dropped off the vehicle with the service garage and called the insurance company. Also learnt that since my insurance company is government owned, a cash-less insurance coverage wasn’t possible!

The entire episode naturally wasn’t a happy one; The following, upon contemplation, were my conclusions:

  1. No one is aware of the law and the legal position
  2. There’s no respect for the law or the legal process for redressal
  3. The specific processes to be followed aren’t known
  4. The legal procedures are so cumbersome and time consuming that no one follows them
  5. The law enforcers are themselves not strict in enforcing the law
  6. Various uninformed, ill-advised and unconnected parties try to get involved
  7. Those attempting to resolve the matter per the law are shouted out by interested parties since they don’t wish to be implicated

I was immediately struck by the remarkable parallels with a startup situation that I had been recently exposed to. There was general unhappiness, politicking and lack of cohesiveness in the startup. The answers to the challenges in the startup practically screamed themselves out:

  1. Make sure organizational policies are known to all – constant communication is critical
  2. Processes to be followed under various situations are to be clearly laid out
  3. The chain of command and authority has to be clear
  4. Faith in the organization comes from how and how swiftly it reacts, in a fair and transparent manner
  5. Those in the company who aren’t involved are not to get involved. If (i) to (iv) are followed, then (v) will generally happen
  6. However, those attempting to take advantage via gossiping and politicking have to be dealt with quickly

Why can’t it be the same with government-citizen interfaces and services?

What do you think?

PS: By the way, my insurance company and the garage are still negotiating over the damages. My car is still in the garage. Am guessing that it should be another 2 weeks before I get the car back and another month before I get compensation. Fingers crossed!