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I Hope We Continue To Remember The Lessons: Sameer Unhale

Sameer Unhale, Additional Municipal Commissioner II, Thane Municipal Corporation & CEO, Thane Smart City, in an exclusive conversation with BW Businessworld’s Upasana Saran, talks about real-life issues of the common people faced in the region during the pandemic. Excerpts:

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How have the last 12 months been for you, both personally and professionally?
From the beginning of last year, the entire globe has been in the grip of the pandemic. No one re-ally expected it to flare up so much initially, if we talk about one year back when it was just entering India.

The entire city administration, municipal bodies along with many other stakeholders within the city had to rapidly adapt themselves — change their nor-mal way of functioning — to re-spond to this kind of disease. By and large, our generation had not faced this kind of phenomenon before.

The earliest that we had something like this, which was a bit similar in its respira-tory impact, was the so called Spanish Flu almost a hundred years back. So as such, there was not much clarity as to what needed to be done in such a kind of respiratory pandemic, as was the case in other countries of the world.

Last year’s Covid outbreak was a tremendous learning experience. Also, people  in India and even across the world in countries, cultures and geographies showed a lot of re-silience to withstand this challenge. It did involve a lot of internal adaptation and transformation of the professional institutions and the behaviour of the various municipal bodies that we have.

It was a learning experience for all of us, and we are still at it. ‘Sustainability’ and ‘resilience’ are the keywords that we will keep coming back to again and again. I hope we continue to remember the lessons from this pandemic.

What are the changes in the policies that we are likely to see? As an administrator, as a policy-maker, what are the kind of changes that you see as necessary at the policy-making level for being able to deal with whatever we have encountered in the last 12 months?
One of the important lessons is the speed with which one has to respond and react in such a pan-demic. Sometimes in the face of red-tapism, and files moving up and down and taking time was something against which we had to react with tremendous speed.Therefore, how to make poli-cies speedily, how to quickly en-sure the communication of a particular set of instructions across the geography and deci-sion-making units are some of the things which have become a part of the decision making process now.  So, the speed, the outreach and, of course, the team-building exercise are now very much a part of the policy-making exercise.

Then, there is the feedback that one has to take — it might be coming from political representatives, NGOs, the media, voluntary workers. A lot of feedback keeps coming and that data has to be analysed so as to understand and get a perspective and make that a part of a particular set of guide-lines, instructions or even policy. So all these exercises are extremely inter-connected and inter-related.  Simultane-ously, there are multiple factors that are inter-playing and influencing multiple outcomes at the same time.