Saturday, 4 January 2014

Problematic solution? – A cobra effect

Ever wondered how solutions sometimes complicate problems and worsen them? Well, you are then wondering about the cobra effect. Here is the story behind the birth of the term ‘cobra effect’.

The backdrop of the story dates back to the times of British rule in India. The British rulers were bothered by the venomous cobras. To contain the growth of these oviparous animals, the British government proposed a new scheme. Cash was offered to people who brought dead cobras.

The British fear of Indian cobras resulted in the steady decline in cobra population. But not for long. Surprise in the form of Indian enterprise was in store for the British. The solution had worked well to solve the problem, but only temporarily. The Indians, by then, had mastered the art of catching and killing cobras for a livelihood. If the cobras went extinct, they feared, they would lose their livelihood.
A pound of flesh, framed and sold!

Luckily, the cobras never went extinct. In fact, one day when one of the generals decided that it was fairly safe to venture into the forest, he found special ‘cobra grooming’ areas in the forest.

Only then did the Government realise that the Indians had started farming cobras and then killing them. This led to the withdrawal of the 'money for dead cobra' scheme.
Once the scheme was withdrawn the Indians no longer found any use for the cobras they had so carefully groomed. Hence they let them out into their natural habitat, the forest. This caused a sudden increase in the cobra population and the original solution became counter-productive.

While cobras still thrive in India, the episode had led to the use of the term ‘cobra effect’ to describe a solution that aggravates the problem.