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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A nation outraged!


Another rape in the metropolis and a ghastly one at that and the police is once again on the mat. The outrage over the incident poured onto the streets and the media and rightly so. The masses at large feel outraged and cheated, outraged over the sheer beastly nature of the incident and cheated over their right to a free and safe movement within the confines of the capital of the nation, right that needs to be guaranteed by the state meant to provide proper governance.

The Delhi police, one of the finest police forces in the nation is once again in the firing line. Perhaps they have been in the firing line so often, that by now they would have realized that the heat would melt away in a few days, anyway with the election results round the corner. The moot question however remains is whether the police could have prevented what happened and whether they are to be blamed to the extent they are actually being.

While watching the debate on Times Now yesterday, I could not help but commiserate over the plight of the young joint commissioner of police who obviously like all bureaucrats with little real authority over his domain had to respond to uncomfortable charges. I could visualize his request for additional force and police control vans doing the rounds of the great Indian bureaucratic system that does not fully authorize those accountable. I was also aghast at the attitude of some of the participants who were not in favour of capital punishment that indeed may prove to be the biggest deterrent for such crimes against humanity. Perhaps physical castration may be the best bet.

I often wonder how one sector of the massive governance machinery excel in isolation when the efficiency of the entire tantra is below par. When shall all of us who are a part of the tantra start appreciating that authority and accountability have to be in matched sets for delivery to be possible. Unfortunately empowerment and systemic improvements remain a utopian dream as much in the police as in the rest of the system.

Is it not unfortunate that merely beating around the bush is what keeps most of us in the sarkari tantra occupied? In the absence of adequate empowerment, quick decision making processes and complex contractual mechanisms topped up by a fair sprinkling of mistrust inherent in the governance machinery, we are indeed getting a taste of our own medicine!

Nation building requires the toil of generations and unfortunately we never toiled. The society is indeed at the receiving end of what it deserves.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No right to differ!


A worrying trend being recently witnessed across the nation is the inability of the powers that matter to accept that other human beings can have an opinion that is different from theirs and also perhaps that of the establishment. The very recent incident of arrests of two girls at Mumbai, merely for voicing an opinion at variance with the sentiments that flowed and the arrests of cartoonists for drawing caricatures found unacceptable by powerful people are pointers to the widespread surfacing of intolerance even amongst those from whom tolerance is generally expected as a mandatory virtue.

The leaders of yesteryears were towering and also witty personalities who would have borne the sarcasm or a differing viewpoint in such harmless exercises if any, in their stride. Even Nehru, the tallest statesman that this nation has produced was often the butt of many caricatures and satires, but never did he lose his cool or express his annoyance in retaliation. Well that is what differentiates a true leader from the rest, yet our major issues being societal in nature, the “rest” alone cannot be held fully accountable for the torrid state of affairs. 

With bureaucrats it is different. The petty ego that they have been preserving since the beginning of their careers with care flares up at the slightest pretext and a difference of opinion by a subordinate is definitely a major pretext to get annoyed. Fortunately however, while the bureaucrats can create a scene or at best spoil confidential reports and the career of those subservient to them, the politico can manage violence and arrests as recently witnessed. One attempts what he is capable of and there is definitely no case for a moral superiority of one over the other. 

Ego is at the core of the issue. “The bigger the ego, the weaker the performance” is a true saying yet never appreciated in the real sense or perhaps the priorities are more practically poised. It is indeed the misfortune of the nation that for the majority of the politicos and bureaucrats, “ego” is their sole prized possession and hence the passionate struggle for its preservation at the cost of the nation. Petty ego of the powers that matter has with passage of time emerged as the hallmark of developing and underdeveloped nations to their detriment. 

Perhaps it has much to do with being in the league of developing nations even after over sixty five years of existence as a free nation. The inability to make a difference in a system designed to rule and control leads to a loss of pride and self esteem and what better way to restore it, other than by belittling others. And so we have seniors who are unable to accept even minor differences of opinion with the masses that they ostensibly represent and the fleet of bureaucrats literally following in their footsteps.

We as a society need to grow up in the real sense. That the seats of power are a tool to serve the society and the nation and not merely means of self aggrandizement needs appreciation. And regarding a different set of opinion as a sign of dissent is definitely not in tune with the democratic principles of governance.  Moreover the hunger for power merely for raising ones stature and means of sustenance is also not a quality that one looks forward to from those who are meant to govern, not rule the nation.

Good governance is the crying need of the hour and it is indeed sad that it appears to be a utopian concept in the present times.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Smoking Beauties


The steam movement in the country that started with the historic run of the fairy queen on the 17th of october 1997 is now bearing fruit. Firmly established on the system are the Rewari Steam Loco shed and regular steam runs between Delhi and Alwar/Rewari.

The resurrection of Rewari and its positioning as the finest steam heritage tourism on planet earth is a landmark that celebrates the return of steam and also commemorates in the efforts of a few committed individuals whose only desire is to see steam on track, even if in a very limited way. Rewari is also a symbol of success, a pulsating proof of the saying that nothing is impossible if the focus is clear and commitment is not lacking.

The Rewari shed saw the light of the day, courtesy a brilliant officer by the name of Vikas who is now the torchbearer of the steam movement in the country. His team did the impossible by resurrecting the engines, one by one and simultaneously a team of engineers led by Saraswat turned the ruins into paradise.   

The 2nd era of steam began with the historic run of the legendary fairy queen on the 17th of October 1997, almost ninety years after the steaming beauty was laid to rest on the East Indian Railway. The resurrection also marked the birth in India of steam heritage tourism, a niche tourism segment, till then known only to the developed world. The massive national and international recognition that the successful run of the fairy queen garnered, resulted in the surfacing of a strong domestic tribe of steam enthusiasts whose selfless contribution is still keeping the movement alive. The Guinness world record certificate that the beauty was decorated with on the 13th of January 1998 also helped in laying a strong foundation of the 2nd era of steam.

The formation of the Indian Steam Railway Society almost at the turn of the century provided the much needed impetus to the movement that the fairy queen was instrumental in creating, almost from scratch. The society has been unfailingly organizing a National Steam Congress every year, this one being the ninth in the series. Regular monthly meetings and exhibitions and lectures being organized by the society have helped in keeping the flame alive. A major role of the society has been to provide a platform to the tribe of steam lovers whose emergence on the scene after the historic run of the queen was increasingly getting noticed. With a retired doyen of the Indian Railways, Romesh Chandra Sethi Esq providing leadership as its President since inception, the society has kept the flame burning even during those turbulent times when steam locomotives were getting regarded as a sure shot recipe for fame and foreign jaunts. Yes the movement suffered and was almost on its last legs when Rewari happened.    

Rewari was conceived as the mecca of the steam movement in the nation, but unfortunately the shed was allowed to go to seed when the initial euphoria died a sudden death almost immediately after the unveiling of the inaugural plaque by the railway minister. The long drawn saga of decay and neglect that followed was fortunately reversed at the turn of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

The Rewari shed has in the last two years undergone a metamorphosis almost akin to a crow turning into a swan. A dilapidated structure with decaying engines has with a lot of hard work, commitment, focus and vision transformed into the finest steam locomotive shed of the world, and also perhaps the finest steam heritage tourism destination on planet earth. It is also perhaps one of the finest examples in the nation of brilliance achieved, despite a highly constraining environment that the system offers.

What next ? The answer is obviously, more of steam on track. One hopes that spurred by the success of “Rewari”, the railways would seriously attempt to get back in a limited way, steam on all the five hill railways and “Insha Allah” if that happens, it would be the finest things to have happened for the cause of Indian Steam as well as Indian Tourism.

Elated I feel and rightly so. Smoking beauties have started churning out smoke once again. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Good Traditions!

Despite a plethora of ills, the Indian Railways still retains some very good traditions. Whether the traditions have remained because the railways finds them relevant or whether because of the sheer resistance to change being inherent to the system is not very clear, yet the continuance of a few good traditions is indeed a matter of tremendous satisfaction.

The annual railway week awards functions at the apex, zonal and divisional levels that are held unfailingly across the entire railway network are an example of a good tradition being carried through. These events generate a feeling of solidarity within the railway fraternity, besides acting as a strong incentive for railway men to achieve excellence in their sphere of activities. The award of department wise shields of excellence also leads to a healthy spirit of competition amongst the various zonal railways.

The sheer number of awards and the selection process at times is however a matter of concern. Many awards are apparently given on considerations other than sheer merit, perhaps based on proximity to powers that really matter. And this to a limited extent dilutes the sanctity of these awards. Despite this kink, the entire exercise remains a rarity, a fine example of a wonderful tradition being carried forward in the spirit with which it was initiated.

If only the spirit of concern for the human resource that such functions bring out is imbibed and practiced, also on the remaining three hundred and sixty four days of the year, the glory and the greatness of the railways would indeed be restored.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Divinity personified!

Shri Shailendra Kumar Budhalakoti, a great man and also the General Manager of the Northern Railway retired from active service yesterday. He has been a man par excellence and a man much superior to any position that the system can device.

Mr Budhalakoti is perhaps the only human being that I have come across in my life who is as close to divinity as a human being can be. A pure soul, purer than that of a child and this is what divinity is all about.

For the first time in my career I witnessed a spate of farewells that had a massive outpouring of love and emotion and each and every one of the speakers spoke straight from the heart with a lump in the throat. And these were also perhaps the first farewells that were devoid of sycophantic connotations when a boss is poised to move upwards or utter disdain when a boss is about to move into oblivion.

Mr Budhalakoti has touched the lives of each one of us who have worked with him. Working with him has taught us the meaning of life itself. There is so much to learn from a great human being like him and every meeting with him has been a pleasure and a great learning experience.

The last two years of my career have perhaps been the finest, as I had the opportunity of closely working with Mr Shailendra Kumar Budhalakoti, a wonderful human being who places human values over everything else and has that one quality that is very rare amongst bureaucrats and that is Humility. My only regret is that I did not work with him earlier.

Most of the officers are feared, few are respected, but only rarest of the rare are loved and Mr Budhalakoti belongs to that category.

With a beaming smile on his face Mr Budhalakoti exudes positivity and radiance and a meeting with him gives encouragement and hope.

His management style is unusual for a railway officer. He commands respect and creates an environment where people are able to work and live without prejudice and fear and in the process creates a recipe for sure shot success, a success that he promptly attributes to his team.

Mr Budhalakoti shall be missed, missed like none else has ever been. Yet he is one boss who shall always be a part of our personal lives. He gives hope that all is not lost yet and it is still good to be good and bad to be bad and the society despite its apparent distortions is still eager to place on high pedestals such divine personalities.

The fragrance of his association shall forever live in the corridors of the Baroda House.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Environmental Blues!

I often wonder how Corporate headquarters, especially in the sarkari sector, most of which have abandoned any semblance of cleanliness or orderliness try to make their subordinate offices neat and efficient. Such claims or efforts, in my opinion are not even worth the paper which they are written on or issued. Only exceptions, so far in my career, have been experiences with the Rail Bhawan in Delhi and the Vallabh Bhawan in Bhopal. These two office buildings present quite a non-sarkari appearance and an equally appropriate working environment. They definitely smack of efficiency, whether they are or not is besides the point. A visit to the Rail Bhawan surprises even the hardcore Delhiite. The corridors, toilets and public areas are definetely a cut above the rest of the Bhawans. And even the archives are a class. One can locate a file or a noting made almost fifty years ago. But, a dekko of most of the sectional offices and officers chambers leaves one dazed, mainly because of the glaring contrast between the public and the private areas. Well anyway, the mandarins of the Rail Bhawan definitely deserve a pat on their back for their efforts in keeping the building clean and smart. I also remember my visits to the Paryaran Bhawan which houses the union ministry of environment. Well now matters seem to have improved but earlier I used to wonder how a ministry which cannot maintain its own environment do justice to the “environment” of the country?

Environment is perhaps the most important aspect that we experience, yet surprisingly fail to appreciate. My first brush with environment was during those heady days of probationary period at Calcutta, almost a three decades ago when while descending the stairs of the metro station at Calcutta, I came alive to the impact environment has on us mere mortals. It was an unforgettable experience. The same Calcuttan who treated littering and spitting in public places as his widely practiced birthright changed colors within a space of only a hundred odd steps. One does not dare litter or even spit inside the metro stations at Calcutta, merely because of the pride, which the clean environment instills. Similar experiences at have reinforced this belief and I am now convinced that one does not litter a clean place. Also having experienced the effect which cleanliness and orderliness had on me in almost all the offices I have inhabited so far in my career, I stand convinced that a neat, clean and organized environment generates positive vibes that have a multiplier effect on efficiency with consequent growth in deliverance.

And so my first task in joining any new organization is to try to effect a change in the working environment. It has happened in all my offices, in railways, the ministry of tourism, the India Tourism Development Corporation, the State Tourism Corporation and now the hot seat of Delhi. Cleaning up the seat of power and that too literally is the task for the first day, to be followed by beautifying the working environment, both hardware and the software. I find it strange how we sarkari babus manage to retain paper that is useless, out of date, irrelevant and often even dirty enough to soil our hands and the table it is put upon. And so we have piles and piles of files, piled up in almirahs, inside and on top of them in typical government offices, and absolute indifference on part of all of us to do anything about it. And it is not just files, but old cardboard boxes, file covers, old pieces of dusting cloth and if one looks hard enough, even old slippers tucked away under the almirahs. Broken furniture is omnipresent.

But before passing any value judgement, let us try to analyze why a sarkari mulazim maintains his home absolutely spic and span and yet fails to carry his zeal to the work place. Is it lethargy, aversion to cleanliness, too much work or just indifference? Indifference it is, but why? The answer lies in our not being able to correlate our actions with deliverance and that leads to indifference towards whatever we do at work and also the surrounding environment. Official work has become a drudgery that has to be endured. Nothing matters whatever we do has become the prevalent belief even amongst the elite in the ruling class – the bureaucrat. And this is something that has to change, if we are to change for the better.

Amen.