Is Jugaad a Covid-19 pandemic saviour?

19 May,2021


By Sanjeev Kotnala


Sanjeev KotnalaIn India, it is fashionable to look down on desi things and ideas. We find problems with the system, approach, methods and solutions. Like a blinkered horse, we are blind to constructive suggestions. We refuse to acknowledge that another approach can have the same objective and be more productive. We shoot the messenger and blame the solution for our inability to prevent the crisis situation to build.


This piece is inspired by an article by Shekhar Badve (Lokus Design, Pune), The Covid pandemic has shattered our international claim to fame, the Jugaad Model’. I knew something was wrong. Why and how can one instance be used to generalise and blame something that has provided solutions in crisis. There is a design firm bias against Jugaad, an approach of have-nots and not necessarily a wrong mindset. Jugaad is blamed because we depend upon it to wriggle out of situations – which could have been avoided in the first place. So, who should be blamed?


Jugaad is an innovative solution within the time and resource constraints. A quick fix – not necessarily a sustainable solution. It is like the rapid recovery steroid during Covid treatment with unknown side-effects. It is an unconventional innovation. But a solution nevertheless.


We may claim Jugaad to be uniquely Indian, but it is a global phenomenon. But= its cousins Chindōgu or Urawaza in Japan, Redneck Technology in us, Gung-ho in China or System -D in France are not really the same.


Jugaad is the solution when people do not have the luxury of time, money or resources. Where immediacy of result is more important than the way, it is achieved. So, why not glorifying the person or the process of getting results.


If Jugaad is considered an attitude that prevents systematic long-term planning, we must blame the planners, not Jugaad. If Jugaad is the standard of acceptance and standard operating procedure, blame people responsible for monitoring and benchmarking. Jugaad got nothing to do with these failures other than our inability to address our shortcomings. It reminds me of Osho, who said, Sin comes from thoughts, not the body, and Ganga only cleans the body. Blaming Jugaad will not change thinking – constructive actions will.


We confuse our sluggishness and blame something non-existent- the Jugaad attitude. Jugaad is merely an approach.


Dekha Jayega Jab Hoga Tab’ – we will see when it happens- or we will cross the bridge when it comes is not Jugaad. ‘Pyaas Lagi Toh Kuhan Koda’– we will dig a well when we feel thirsty – is not Jugaad.’ Aag Lagi Thi Toh Bhuja Di’– there was a fire – we extinguished it- is also not Jugaad.


Jugaad is temporary. It is full of imperfections, at times illogical and bends the rules. Jugaad mainly works with pre-existing problems. But Jugaad can be proactive. And suppose Jugaad infested life is an issue. In that case, I will wait for a solution from the proponent of systematic, objective innovation and design thinking. Jugaad exists because they have failed. Instead of them blaming Jugaad, Jugaad should be blaming them.


During Covid, we collectively failed. The government failed the citizen and citizens failed the government. The systems failed in projections and preparation. The peak demand for beds, oxygen and medicine was 10-20 x of the capability. If wishes were horses, we could have been better prepared. The reality is that we were not. It is the failure of systematic planning. Jugaad mindset provided makeshift solution preventing lot many deaths.


Yes, we will have Jugaad thinking and success case studies, But not the case studies on systematic failure of forecasting, planning and implementation. Even when we are paying the price for this failure, and the case is of failure. We are human to celebrate success.


We know Jugaad was never a curse or a hindrance. It never forced weaning from systematic planning and excellence. But, we must find scapegoats for failure, in this case, the non-existential Jugaad attitude. We must celebrate Jugaad, the saviour, till the resources and infrastructure are not easily accessible, available, and affordable.


Remember, at times, results matter more than the approach. Covid is one such case. Highlighting and celebrating Jugaad is not a conspiracy against systematic innovation.


Go ahead make Jugaad transparently naked under the spotlight of evaluation. Show the shortcoming, the imperfection and the risk of short term answers. Push people to accommodate space, time and resources constraints for systematic planning and implementation!


There is no disagreement when Shekhar says: ‘What’s the point of celebrating how well we have managed to come out of the crisis if the crisis could have been totally avoided.’ 


The second wave was expected. A disaster was in the waiting, but there was enough time to act.


We closed Jumbo Covid centres. We failed to anticipate the required beds, medicine, oxygen etc. Our IT solutions failed when needed, and the SOPs changed by the day. We did not correctly estimate vaccine need. Definitely, we could have worked to make the impact less painful. Maybe many more lives could have been saved.


It doesn’t take much intelligence to plan and organise well in advance. Covid has shown that the list of severe lack of systems planning and forecasting issues is endless. But, why blame internationally acclaimed Jugaad for it – it was Jugaad that came to the rescue. It worked when the paralytic systematic planning and execution was leaving us unguarded.


There is no argument; India needs to rethink the whole game from a systems design perspective. It needs to understand entropies in almost every aspect of public interest: health, security, delivery of public services, and natural disasters. We must not always be forced to avoid and handle emergencies with ad hoc decision-making and fall back on citizen heroics with failing governance and response. We should be better prepared.


Yes, we need to live in the re-world. Re-evaluate and Re-search. Re-think and Re-design.

During Covid, Jugaad was everywhere – where the systematic planning and infrastructure support failed. Be it the tiffin service or beds or medicines. The ventilators or the oxygen concentrator, or the splitters. Sanitisers or masks. Kaadha or steam. Liquor or fruits or vegetables. Interstate or intrastate transit. Birth or cremation. And if systematic resource led efforts are incapable of delivering, Jugaad will again rise as a Hero.


Unfortunately, as a nation with a short memory, passing passions and voyeuristic attitude, we will not go for the kill. We will not invest in understanding the cause. We will avoid getting down to the drawing board- scenario planning- mock-ups, and trials.


Let’s pause, think, and maybe selfishly celebrate Jugaad until the angels of change start dancing to the new tunes!


Sanjeev Kotnala is a senior business strategist and educator. He writes on MxMIndia every Wednesday, and often even on other days of the week His views here are personal


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