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Friday, February 22, 2013

Is there light around the corner?

The next rail budget is round the corner.

A commercial organization in monopoly in a sellers market in a nation inhabited by over a thousand and three hundred million should ideally have no reason to belie the expectations of its clients as well as constituents. Yet it has successfully belied the expectations of almost all it came in contact with during the last over three decades.

Where have we faulted and is there a salvation?

Is it not sad that I, a true railwayman to the core and fairly senior one at that have no expectations from the ensuing budget, and there may be many more of the same variety. Having been a silent witness to thirty three budgets in my career spanning as many years, I have learnt not to nurture hopes from such annual rituals. A ritual is what the budget has now become, a ritual that merely places the accounts of the current and the forecast for the ensuing financial year on the table along with a few sops for the public at large.   

A budget is meant to be a statement, a statement of the efficiency and purpose of an organization, of its goals and aspirations and of a new vision or direction. A budget of a commercial organization is expected to be a pointer of the direction that the organization is expected to take in the coming year and therefore should logically result in actionables that drive the organization to achieve the figures and also the intent. Unfortunately it has generally never been so.  

It is also true that for a developing nation like ours and an organization like the railways, mere announcement of intentions is not meant to be the end all. Intentions if not backed by a solid commitment of purpose can only serve as a temporary shroud for gains that can at best be short term in nature.

The convenient lack of clarity on whether we are a commercial organization or the sarkar itself has been the bane of this monolith, almost since the time the nation came on its own. An archaic and bloated bureaucracy, the nine verticals of which are often at war with each other would always find it difficult to deliver what the nation aspires for. Yet its sheer inability to restructure itself on commercial lines from the present departmental one has indeed been the reason behind the organization not being able to live up to national aspirations. The recommendations submitted on many occasions by eminent economists have been gathering dust in an organization that desperately needs to modernize and corporatize in the national interest.

It is also necessary that our processes, both for taking decisions as well as entering into contracts are simplified and brought at least at par with other governmental systems in the country, if not on total commercial lines. Yet, on the contrary, the over bloated bureaucracy that rarely differentiates between deliverance and remaining busy continues to make mountains out of molehills. 

If only the ensuing budget is not merely a statement of figures and a few announcements, but instead a statement of avowed objectives and time frames thereof backed by a resolve to take all necessary steps to achieve the same, the greatness of this organization would indeed be redeemed.

If only wishes were horses...................

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