Jugaad Engine
Image via Wikipedia

There’s a famous joke driving home the concept of “Jugaad”.

Once NASA had trouble in starting their expensive space craft. A Sardarjee, a scooter mechanic is called from an local Indian market to solve the problem. He asks the NASA scientists to tilt the spacecraft at exactly 45degrees. They do so and off goes the rocket. Amazed at such a precision, scientists ask this mechanic how did he know to tilt at 45 degrees.

“Oh, its simple…it’s jugaad. In India, we start our scooters like that!”

“Jugaad” is the brilliant act of finding ways and means to reach a solution in the midst of constraints and barriers -where other “professionals or designers” may generally give up – Jugaad begins there.

Jugaad is applied in many different ways in the Indian scenario – be it transport, auto repair, building construction, medicine or anything that life can throw at you.


Open Gutter - in front of posh business center and a busy metro stn (hover over the pic to read about it)

In a recent article “Use Jugaad to innovate faster, cheaper and better” in HBR, the authors go on to explain 5 traits that “Jugaad’ can deliver where professional help fail.

Applying it in the context of an ideal sustainable transport system – let me describe a recent incident that clearly demonstrates just that.

Sure we have Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT) corridors, Metro networks criss-crossing the city landscape and NMT’s or Non-Motorized forms of transport that come under sustainable or environmentally friendly transport. But there’s more than meets the eye – there’s “Jugaad!” – for everything.

Just the other day I had an amazing experience. My work place was shifted to a new location and I had to find a way to commute (apart from coming by car)

By “jugaad” or by common understanding among the 3-wheeler auto rickshaw drivers at the metro station – they act as feeder service carrying 5 or sometimes 6 passengers from the metro station to their place of work, charging a flat rate of 15 rupees per passenger, which otherwise would not be more than 20 rupees, if a single passenger is carried. This act is making them 5 times more for the same distance travelled and in turn transporting as many more people – result – Higher profit, looking at the collective need and lesser trips resulting in lesser fumes and carbon.

These 3-wheelers are designed to carry at the most 3 adults, but I saw 6 of us hanging on to it – 4 in back seat, and 2 on either side of the driver seat. I was surprised, needless to say as I was the first passenger to get in and asked the driver to go. ‘Where to…wait!” he remarked. And within less than a minute 5 others hopped in taking their “as a matter of fact” usual places. (And we have 50,ooo more of such 3-wheeled autos coming soon on Delhi roads)

What we have is happy people, happy driver and happy environment (naturally, the early wear ‘n tear is not accounted for)

A Jugaad carrying passengers to a political rally
Image via Wikipedia

In India, we have jam packed buses, jam packed metro trains, jam packed cars, jam packed jugaad concoctions, jam packed “company transport” cabs and even jam packed school buses transporting people and children to and fro – not only in 2nd or 3rd tier cities and villages but also in big Indian cities like Delhi where I live.

We even have 3-wheeler mannual rickshaws pulled by a human carrying the same people and children in highly unfriendly Indian roads.

Can we even call it a form of EST or environmentally sustainable transport? I don’t think so.

Even if they are carrying more people in fewer trips, it comes at a cost – cost of delays, accidents, and deaths – especially so in winters when we have extreme foggy conditions. Every other day we have incidents of accidents and delays resulting due to over packed conditions. The most recent one being the death of 11 school children “packed like sardines” in a school bus that collided with a truck.

Such concoctions and ideas are not only highly unsafe, breaking the rules (if there are any) but also are being treated as ‘the way” it self. Tata Nano car was touted as the best jugaad. “Akaash” tab is being labeled as a jugaad. Mind you, “Jugaad” is not the solution – its the temporary make-shift arrangement till the proper solution is reached.

These are not – these are innovations adapted to Indian conditions. While I agree at large what HBR article authors intentions, but perhaps they need to make that explicitly clear or else there is a real danger of people thinking it the only way forward – which already most of the Indians either do themselves or are accustomed to.

I recently saw an advert by Delhi Traffic Police, urging people to  follow traffic rules. People will follow, why won’t they…if only they knew what the rules were!…Or else we will keep seeing jugaad in places that we don’t want.