If one were to study the list of tragedies and unfortunate incidents that have unfolded across the country in the past few months, it may be concluded that either policy makers in India lack foresight or choose to ignore issues until they become a tragedy or something goes horribly wrong.

Having worked in the arena of advocacy for a while now, it has been an observation that almost all policy interventions and State responses are formulated only when things go horribly wrong, become an issue of national interest or when lives are lost.

Although there are plenty of examples of no action or policy being formulated in response to a tragedy or deaths; the most recent and appalling is the death of over 100 infants in Uttar Pradesh due to lack of oxygen supply. Despite the outrage and national attention over the issue, the ruling government in UP managed to conveniently shirk its Constitutional responsibility of ensuring the welfare of its citizens, which includes providing health care.

It is also an example of how public policy in India is a failure. It is well known that instances of encephalitis have a high prevalence in certain parts of UP, yet there was no policy in place to address this. There were no preventive measures taken, no awareness created or action taken on the ground. Not just the present government in UP is responsible for this, but also the many governments in power before it.

Policies in India fail for three reasons more than often; first, because ground realities and evidence are not taken into account while working on policy formulation; second, because all concerned stakeholders are not consulted and third, because our policies are not in ‘response’ to an issue, rather they are a ‘reaction’ to the issue.

Take for instance, the heinous murder of the 7 year old student at a school in the National Capital Region. It is natural for parents, students and society to react to the situation with fear and anger, however, the State cannot afford to do the same, the State must respond not react. But what would be even better is if the State made policies and set in place preventive mechanisms before something like this occurs.

Certain issues, such as those of safety must be pre-empted and approached from a preventive perspective in order to avoid short sighted and ineffective measures. Policy, decision makers and governments in power have all possible resources available at their disposal to pre-empt issues and take the required measures. Yet these measures are taken only after a tragedy has unfolded.

Had there been a policy in place to ensure the safety of children within educational institutions, an unfortunate event such the one at Ryan International School could have been avoided, and if not avoided there would at least some sort of accountability on the school and state’s behalf. But the absence of any kind of policy in place has left everyone passing the buck, since responsibility setting itself was never done.

The Delhi government, Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Ministry of Human Resource Development has now woken up and realised the need for a protection policy for children in schools.

It is not the first time in India that the safety of a child has been compromised, in the past and even today reports of being children abused in school – sexually or physically – are rampant. Despite being aware of this why have our policy and decision makers for so long not felt the necessity for such a policy or system to be in place? Is ensuring safety and taking preventive action not one of the many obligations of the State towards its citizens?

The recent stampede at the Elphinstone Road railway station in Mumbai too could have been avoided had those concerned taken cognisance of the issue and paid attention to the words of caution from several quarters. The signs were there, citizens had pointed it out and so had other policy makers, yet it was not considered to be important enough for action to be taken. It is only now when so many lives have been lost that the government has realised the need for urgent response.

It is no secret that Mumbai’s current infrastructure is insufficient to cater to the growing population of the city; books have been written and studies have been done on the same. Yet it is only after so many individuals having died that the government has decided to take necessary action. Had those in power had some amount of foresight and political will, much of this could have been averted.

Effective policies require foresight and cannot merely be a reaction to an incident or situation. In a world where there are a thousand possible scenarios and a multitude of things which could go wrong, it becomes an obligation of the State, in the case of India, it is the Constitutional mandate of the state to protect and keep out of harm’s way all its citizen, by taking preventive and precautionary measures.