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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ends do not justify the means!

Could not but appreciate from the heart the effort of a few individuals to honor those whose contribution to good governance in the country has been tremendous and who otherwise would have remained confined to the shadows. Well done Gfiles for doing what the system should otherwise have been doing to motivate their own men, yet it is rarely done.

Almost all who spoke at the function made a forceful mention of the need for ethics in public service. Some even gave real life examples of the stand that they took for doing what is right even in the face of powerful forces that willed otherwise and often in the process suffered ignominy. Yet for once I felt proud of belonging to the same league of government servants as these brave men and women who were decorated for making a difference in a system that generally does not lay a premium on doing and being good.

And that is why we are where we are – almost at the bottom of the list of nations in almost all spheres of societal growth and human upliftment. Yet it fails to surprise me for what better does one expect in a system that even after over sixty seven years of evolution remains woefully short of adherence to ethical values and proper conduct.

It often surprises me that in almost three and a half decades of service, I am yet to attend an official meeting (not convened by me) where adherence to ethical values and the welfare of men is discussed. The meetings generally remain confined to the mundane world of projects, budgets, punishments, discipline and more often than not – self-gratification of the powers to be. Never ever the need for probity in public life is discussed, much less acted upon.

And the almost tearing hurry to comply with the unethical demands of superiors even at the cost of the organization and the nation is invariably witnessed. Often this is the result of conditioning that we have been accustomed to – of never saying a “NO” to a powerful superior perhaps because of the degeneration of the spinal cord with the years spent in the services or for expecting the same ourselves from subordinates. Yet there are exceptions, a small sample of which was on display recently at the felicitation ceremony at the civil services officer’s institute.

The last decade has perhaps been the worst if one indeed regards a decline in moral values and an absolute lack of ethical values as the barometer of societal evolution. Rampant corruption reared its head only to be equalled by the incidents of violation of the dignity of the fairer sex. The Nirbhaya incident of almost two years ago, the public uproar thereafter and the almost incessant continuance of such incidents in the face of an abysmal lack of concern by those who are meant to govern has left a bitter taste in the mouth. And the series of scams topped by the one during the common wealth games that spared not even an occasion of national pride in an international arena left the society drained of any hopes of a turnaround in the happiness index of our nation. And we continue to chug along downhill.

Having handled two sinking ships in my career, tourism development corporations at the central and state levels and then witnessing their spectacular turnarounds convinced me that radical growth can come out of only radical decisions, strict adherence to the right path and most importantly an almost unflinching commitment in sticking to ethical values and impeccable conduct. Unfortunately this is not the stuff imparted to fertile brains in universities of education as well as life and therein lies the malaise. Materialism has conquered almost everyone and the human value systems have become conspicuous by their almost universal absence, except in pockets and that too, not by design but by chance.


These are changing times in the life of our nation. Perhaps we are poised to acquire our rightful place in the comity of nations, yet that may happen only if we follow what all our scriptures have laid down – the ends do not justify the means, the means also have to be right.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Heed the voice of conscience!

The incessant babble – of voices imploring one to act or not to act is often maddening and at times dangerous, if one indeed acts on them. This babble is often so overbearing that lesser mortals which  most of us are, find it difficult to set aside.

We Indians are great at advising others, while at the same time often guilty of inaction ourselves. And therefore we have all these cases of blatant corruption, loot and rapes in glaring public view. People watch and walk away, wishing that someone else would pick up the straw and yet later grumble about the sorry state of affairs in the society, a society that is rapidly going bereft of men with spine.

We look the other way when the powerful custodians have their hands in the till. We continue to look the other way even after our Prime Minister, the greatest that this nation has ever had, exhorts us to rise above the “Mera Kya Mujhe Kya” syndrome. The top guy realizes, yet we do not, that a thief is hurting us irrespective of the ownership of the cauldron he is busy emptying. It is our nation and also our railways after all.

Often in life one encounters situations when a bigger general good is tipped against a petty personal gain or loss and unfortunately the latter tips the scale. Personal discomfort or comfort takes overriding priority over the need to be on the path of righteousness and the general good. Giants become pygmies on such occasions.

The very fact that organization and nation building does not come cheap needs to be grouted firmly and straight, in the inner recesses of our mind. The thought that good shall always remain good and shall always be the right thing to do even at the pinnacle of “Kalyug” needs to settle firmly in the collective psyche of the nation. Will it ever be so I wonder, yet the thought that now we have a true leader at the helm gives solace.

While we are all separate bodies with different likes, tastes, preferences, attitudes and actions, the fact remains that at the sub-conscious level, we are all one having emerged from the one single root of energy in the universe. Our conscience is therefore our best guide at such moments in life when the voice of reason starts wavering in the face of petty personal gains or losses. Brutal suppression of the voice of conscience that invariably emerges whenever there is a subconscious battle between good and evil is definitely not in order. Gautam Buddha the great, advocated looking within as the best means to lead a life, yet in the land he spent most of his life in, we have moved away from our souls towards materialism that really does not matter in the short or the long run.

Spiritualism needs to be at the core of all our actions and activities if the glory of this great nation or the great organization is to be restored. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Wielding the broom and cleaning the nation

PAYING TRIBUTE TO THE FATHER OF THE NATION

Wednesday, 01 October 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped

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The Clean India campaign embodies the Mahatma’s ‘cleanliness is godliness’ slogan. It has the potential to revolutionise the Indian mind, body and soul
The launch of Clean India campaign on October 2 is perhaps the best tribute that our nation has ever paid to its father, the great saint Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma likened cleanliness to godliness, yet unfortunately so far, the nation never really embraced this saying — muck and dirt being commonplace in public and private places. Worst of all has been the spectacle of unclean environment in almost all temples regardless of their holy stature.
It is indeed a problem of mindset that engulfs the entire nation, a mindset that fails to appreciate the impact that a clean environment can have on delivery and also on happiness levels of the people thronging the environment. And, therefore, we have dirty offices, dirty markets, dirty temples, dirty railway stations and dirty trains and so on with almost everyone blaming the society at large for the state of affairs. It is indeed a classic case of the great indian blame game where everyone finds the others blameworthy.
It is also a stark reality that economic status does not play a role in the cleanliness of a place. We are often witness to garbage being thrown on the roads by people travelling in swanky cars, even in cities like Mumbai and Delhi that call themselves modern.
The Varna system that classifies society in four major groups with the Shudra, who is generally considered to be in the ‘cleaner’ category being placed at the bottom, is also to blame. There is hardly any rationale behind expecting excellence in work by someone devoid of basic dignity that human beings deserve. The existence of the safaiwala is denied by society yet, he is expected to keep places spic and span. The sheer act of cleanliness is looked down upon, yet a clean environment is desired by all and sundry. This attitude has to change and dignity of labor restored.
The wielding of the broom by the high and mighty of the nation on Gandhi Jayanti should, therefore, be much more than a mere photo opportunity. It also has to extend beyond mere symbolism as the intent this time is apparently genuine. The Prime Minister, it appears, genuinely believes that a clean environment is the precursor to growth and progress and his intent and push should, therefore, not be allowed to wither away. 
The campaign, however, needs to extend beyond mere cleanliness of places and percolate the intangible world. During the last 10 years, the nation witnessed the rock bottom in the realm of ethics in governance. Rampant corruption marred almost all acts of governance and ethics were conspicuous by their sheer absence in the bureaucratic and political systems. Even events of national pride like the Commonwealth Games were juiced to the hilt, regardless of the beating taken by the national image. And almost every single Government contract was viewed as a means of amassing wealth. Ethical behaviour become a rarity. Literally cleaning the act of governance itself is perhaps the order of the day.
It is from this abyss that the nation now has to rise. Why is dealing with Government a nightmare for the common man and the towering corporate alike? Why should change form an essential part of the rhetoric and not be a reality on the ground? Why has our tryst with destiny been belied with the nation not being able to solve the basic issue of poverty even after almost 67 years of its independence? These fundamental questions should churn our minds while we, on October 2, wield the broom.
It is perhaps now or never. Rapidly changing times are upon us and the nation appears poised to once again achieve the state where the entire citizenry can take pride in being an Indian. After all, it is not mere rhetoric that can motivate and instill pride; only real change can.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What is good for the goose is obviously not for the gander

The on-going tussle for a house on Tughlaq road between the government and a former cabinet minister is as interesting as it is disgusting. Yet what needs to be appreciated is the perseverance of the government of the day in ensuring that housing rules are made applicable uniformly for the hoi polloi as well as the high and mighty.

That repeated excuses parroted by the occupant seeking time to pack his things were not genuine was exposed by the emergence of the demand to convert the house into a memorial for a kisan leader of the nation who happens to be his late father. That a battery of farmers threatened to cut off water supply to the city of Delhi in retaliation for applying rules on those who regard themselves above the same tantamount to blackmail for a cause that is grossly unfair and unjust.

What else does one expect from the political class that is the true mirror of the materialistic society that has evolved in the nation since the tryst with destiny almost seven decades ago. Perhaps we were not ready for democracy, a system in which rights and responsibilities have to go together if it is to be a success. And therefore I am also often amazed at the national penchant that seeks improvements in the nation without paying the price that the act warrants.

In the last ten years the nation witnessed a nadir in governance. Corruption touched new heights and scams that surfaced with amazing regularity remained the popular topic of discussion among the masses. Rise in prices as well as crime was a natural corollary and the people at large, fed up of shoddy governance therefore effected a change, a change that had disenchantment at its root. The populace tired of a glaring lack of ethical conduct in those who govern expected things to look up. It also expects that those who had their hands in the till will be made to pay. One seriously hopes and prays that these expectations will not be belied.

Talking of memorials, I fail to appreciate the need to have a memorial for people other than saints or those who changed the course of history. Merely being a leader of a class of people or even a state or a nation should not justify creation of a memorial, as that would never touch the chords in the hearts of the citizenry. And memorial on political considerations, as many of them are is indeed unacceptable by any stretch of imagination.

I vividly recollect asking a leading local politician during my stint as the head honcho of Delhi division, whether he would keep aside one room in his house for the encroachers whose case for not demolishing encroachments he was so vehemently piloting. Obviously what is good for the goose is more than often not good for the gander.

I also often witness to manipulation of laid down rules by the babudom with the specific motive of pinning down or favoring individuals. The same guy for whom the rule was manipulated for cries hoarse when he gets affected by a manipulation aimed at helping someone else.

I wonder when the era of double standards and double talk would come to an end. Till then we would continue to be witness to such dramas being played on the national stage.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Alas there are no Ceasers anymore!

Somehow the depressing feeling that there are no doors to knock at, except perhaps the supreme court for a honest official in distress or for someone longing to bring to book those who loot the country, that had started taking root in my heart since the last decade or so refuses to ebb even in the recent times. The thieves, looters and the depraved seem to be getting away with ease is the popular public perception taking root.

The ancient saying the Caeser’s wife should be above suspicion is held more in breach in our nation. Perhaps even the Ceasers of modern times are generally not above reproach and that is sad for this nation that in ancient times was indeed the torchbearer for the entire global civilization.

The media splash in the last few days covering the activities of the head of the country’s premier investigating agency has indeed shocked the nation. Perhaps even the last bastion has fallen and unless the defenses are restored asap, the nation is indeed in for harrowing times.

Sometime back there was a whisper that an officer of the railway service was shunted out for refusing to supply toilet paper for the residential use of a senior honcho of the organisation. Well definitely this could not have been the first such indiscretion of its kind, but rather the one that emerged in the public domain and shocked everyone by the brazenness of the act. And it is not always that someone from the bureaucratic class possesses the courage to stand up against illegal orders. After all very few of us treat sarkari assets as amanat, while for the brute majority it is milkiyat. It is indeed sad that with minor exceptions the custodians are prepared to sell the nation along with their conscience for petty personal gains. It is not really a bargain that is worth it.

It is also true that the fear of retribution for committing gross misdeeds has receded and in its place a new kind of fear of speaking out against those in power committing gross misdeeds has taken roots, rather deep one at that. The full tantra cutting across services and states and to some extent even the common citizen remains in awe and fear of those in power regardless of the misdemeanors committed by them.

Yet there are some who rebel against the loot by those who are expected to protect. And it is this minority, comprising of individuals like the one shunted out who have kept the flag flying high.

Somehow it all boils down to a major decline in value systems in our society. A society that generally regards power not as a means to serve but as a means for self-aggrandizement and a display of superiority over mere mortals will never be able to achieve what is right. Yet a few right steps by a few men have the capability to bring about changes that can alter the course of history and perhaps the time for such changes is knocking at our door.    

In God and providence we trust.

Amen!   

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wise and Gutsy after hanging the boots!

Katju, a person of great eminence was on the backfoot in the Times Now debate yesterday. Despite performing a commendable job in highlighting the impropriety committed in granting extension to a tainted high court judge of the Chennai court, the other two panelists were successful in pulling him down over the issue of his remaining mum, both while he was in active assignment and also for the over two years that elapsed since he hung up his boots.

His defense that he could not have gone beyond a point in expressing his resentment over the grave impropriety being committed right under his nose by the supreme authorities of the land obviously does not cut much ice. That his hands were tied by the compulsions of being an active judge and therefore not able to resist the mischievous actions of those in power is an argument that we often hear, especially from the bureaucrats who on similar lines grow wise and gutsy after retirement.

Is this, the conventional approach of being silent partners in crime the right course of action I wonder? Is permitting without a whimper, gross cases of misconduct under the garb of remaining within the ambit of the conduct rules applicable to government servants, the ethical way of doing things?

The answer is NO, yet almost all of us with exceptions of the likes of Khemka, Khairnar or Kiran, all with first names starting with the letter K, find it the most convenient and justifiable action that despite the voice of conscience saying otherwise, we absolve ourselves with throughout our lives. Incidentally Katju also belongs to the same variety and that makes me reverent of the alphabet K. 

Silent partners in crime with allegiance to powerful individuals and not to the government or the nation, is what almost all of us in the service of the government have emerged as. Rampant corruption and injustice therefore flourishes right under our noses and we tend to look elsewhere till at times we take a direct hit.

Is it not our duty to be truthful, honest and compassionate and at the same time put our foot down when someone else howsoever powerful he may be fleeces the nation by his misdemeanors. While our conscience that is an integral part of the almighty winces at all such acts, our intellect tempered by the everyday happenings of the society guides us otherwise in the garb of being practical for fear of retribution that may or may not come in the shape of a transfer or a spoiled confidential report. Is it not therefore a case of paying a very high price for avoiding a minor inconvenience?

This lack spine at crucial moments in our service career provides the wherewithal to powerful individuals to carry on with their acts of gross misconduct while at the same time remaining on the right side of the conduct rules framed for the servants of the government. This is the greatest irony of the so called service of the nation.

Any system or structure that regards an expose’ as a much bigger crime than the criminal deed itself would never be able to propel the nation to the league of developed countries. Any organization where the frank and free expression of its constituents is regarded as dissent worthy of grave retribution is bound to wither away with time. The functioning of organizations and states has to have its foundations on pillars of justice, justice that meets the voice of conscience not merely some rules and procedures written in books. Unless this realization dawns on the mandarins of the republic, we would forever remain occupied in a futile search for growth and development. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The injustice of the Juvenile Justice Act

Maneka Gandhi’s statement on juvenile justice and her resolve to bring to book juveniles who rape and murder is indeed music to the ears. I fully endorse the view that a so called kid who is into premeditated rapes and murders can by no stretch of imagination classify as a kid worthy of much reduced punishment. A rape is a rape and a murder is a murder regardless of the age of the person committing it and the perpetrator does not deserve any leniency whatsoever.

India is also home to a plethora of armchair enthusiasts who carry a view on almost all issues under the sun. It is these armchair enthusiasts who so far have been highly vocal against attempts to bring about suitable modifications in the juvenile justice act. I wonder what would be the response of the most vocal armchair enthusiast is his own daughter undergoes a fate akin to Nirbhaya, yet I am reasonably certain that his views would be taking a hundred eighty degree turn.

The Nirbhaya incident of the 16th of December 2012 shook the collective conscience of the nation. Never before in the history of the republic the citizens emerged from the comfortable confines of their homes on the roads of the capital to protest against the incident. Yet justice is still awaited in this case and with the exception of the guy who committed suicide, the others are still cooling their heels and forever devising ways to delay the noose. The noose however would never await the one who was the most brutal of the lot, for the mere reason that he is a juvenile and therefore classifies for leniency under the juvenile justice act. What a travesty of Justice!

I abhor the double standards that we citizens generally tend to practice. The noose if our own kith and kin is involved and mercy or a total lack of concern if someone else is. I have always admired  instant justice the sunny deol style as witnessed in films and unless the same is implemented in real life scenario, innocents and the weak would continue to suffer.  

Spurred by the cover the act provides, juveniles have also become the favourite actors in cases of terrorism and organized crime. The act has already provided sufficient motivation to crime syndicates to bank on youngsters for their operations in India. During my stint as the head honcho of Delhi division of the railways the biggest headache was the nuisance and crime committed by the below eighteen group at almost all stations and yet we could not do anything in the matter.

For the sake of the society and also for the sake of my family I sincerely hope and pray that Maneka Gandhi does not fail in her efforts. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What ails Indian tourism?

Tourism along with railways has always been a key focus area of the new prime minister even before he became one and it is now time that these sectors are actually harnessed for the national good. Unfortunately tourism, an activity of the masses has always been looked upon with an elitist undertone and therefore the sector rarely got the attention and the priority it rightfully deserved despite its unmatched multiplier effect and capacity for generating employment.
There has always been an ongoing debate over whether tourism is a state or a federal subject and voices to bring it on the concurrent list were always getting raised. Yet the fact remains that merely being on a list is not a guarantor of growth or development and what really matters are intentions and also the efforts to convert them into reality. During my earlier roller coaster stint in the federal ministry of tourism I always wondered whether merely putting Agra, the home of the Tajmahal in order should not be the starting point for setting right the entire gamut of tourism in the nation. Yet it was never to be as we always aspired to do something big while failing in achieving the small. 
Another issue that has always been on the top of my mind is whether the primary role of the tourism departments at the federal and state levels is tourism for the mandarins or tourism for the masses. For masses obviously it has to be, yet the tours beyond the confines of the shores have continued unabated, cutting across states and shades of governance. Our focus definitely needs to shift from beyond the shores to setting our own house in order and then zoom forward.
It is not merely about how many visitors we receive from beyond the shores. Tourism to my mind is more about enabling our countrymen to explore the richness of their own country, something that gets shrouded by the glimmer of what is regarded and worshipped as foreign stuff.
It is also of essence that the national perspective on tourism does not remain confined merely to figures both of foreign tourist arrivals and the home population moving within the country. Unfortunately the national mind-set is guided and also led by statistics, and therein lies the malaise. Even while remaining confined to statistics, the essential difference between the tourist, who is basically an explorer, and the traveller, who may be moving for many reasons needs to be   appreciated, though both form part of the tourism statistics that are regularly being churned out and touted by those who matter in the matter of tourism in the country.
Another fallacy is related to international advertising. Our sheer inability to appreciate that the bottleneck in so far as foreign tourist arrivals is concerned is not the inability to showcase but the  number of seats in the aircrafts plying between the homeland and the rest of the world. It is time to realize that advertising is not merely for increasing the numbers but also for improving the image perception and creating the desire to visit and it therefore has to be primarily driven by the Indian ethos, culture and achievements and not merely the numbers game.
And it is also about infrastructure. The much-needed basic tourist infrastructure is a dire necessity and merely releasing grants to the State Governments who permit only a trickle to reach the ground is not making the difference it actually should. The release of funds alone is an inadequate measure unless it results in an actual conversion and in its absence a pat on the back is not really in order. The emergence of a good monitoring and executing machinery is the desperate need of the hour.
The India Tourism Development Corporation is indeed the sad story of Indian tourism. An inherently profitable commercial organization also entrusted with the national mandate of development of tourism has been brought to seed by inept leadership provided by high ranking bureaucrats. Is it not really unfortunate that along with Air India, ITDC is also now regarded as the national symbol of sloth, inefficiency and corruption? Both these commercial monoliths could have given a tremendous push to the cause of tourism as well as travel within the country, something they did till professionalism remained at the core of their operations. Yet both can turnaround provided………
It is beyond doubt that tourism as an activity almost always happens on its own, without prodding from the governments, and that it helps local economies to grow at a pace much higher than in other sectors. Its employment potential as well as impact on economy many times over the investment in the sector have already received adequate national hype and now it warrants real inputs not merely rhetoric  from the governments. 
It is now time that the handling of tourism moves beyond the established clich├ęs and it actually starts  driving local economies, besides giving a thrust to the re-emergence and positioning of ancient Indian heritage, art, culture and thought. It would indeed be futile to look at tourism without looking at all that the country stands for. The sectors encompassing tourism and culture are complimentary and a much higher natural synergy will now perhaps be achieved after the merger of the two ministries.
The role of the Government of India Tourist Offices, popularly known as GOITO’s that earlier formed the backbone of the national effort to give a thrust to tourism need a much deeper understanding and appreciation. Merely finding faults without suitably empowering them to function efficiently in a fast changing international scenario is causing more damage than good. Perhaps an injection of fundamentals of administration and management is the need of the hour. It is also necessary that the unfortunate state of affairs in which these offices and the men who man them stand castigated should cease once and for all. 
Lack of cleanliness and hygiene is also a bane of the tourism sector in the nation. Perhaps it is an issue related to the mind-set that is prevalent, yet there is no alternative to maintaining in a state of utmost cleanliness both our tourist destinations as well as places of human habitat in general. The recent clean india campaign marked a good beginning, yet the effort has lost steam midway or so it appears.
And make it easy for the private sector to invest. That the number of hotel rooms in the organized sector is far lower than that in the city state of Singapore indeed says it all. A multi-pronged strategy focussed on cleanliness, private sector participation, infrastructure development, promotional advertising and tourist facilitation would make all the difference in proper positioning of the country as a tourist friendly nation in its own national interest, is indeed the need of the hour.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Railway Reforms - Article published in TOI of 1st July 2014

Jul 01 2014 : The Times of India (Delhi)
INSIDE VIEW- Railways in decline, it's time for overhaul


That Railways, the great monolith often christened as the economic lifeline of the nation, is in for a major overhaul is both sad as well as gratifying. After all, even the most modern machines require periodic overhauls and therefore why not organizations?
Actually , the Railways are in crying need for an overhaul.
The recent spate of accidents and the general public perception of an organization that still delivers where many others fail to, albeit not up to the satisfaction of customers, is the sad story of the Railways.It's an organization that carries over 20 million passengers a day and over thousand million tonnes of freight a year. But, it has almost reached its limits in its present shape and structure. And that's where the nub lies. There's no longer time to beat about the bush -rather it's time to call a spade a spade.
An archaic, feudal and sycophantic organization steeped in complex processes cannot be expected to meet the expectations of 21st century India.
Its three-tier structure on departmental lines, with a redundant tier in the middle, with its cadres aligned on similar lines is the real issue that is preventing a monopoly commercial organization from meeting the country's aspirations.
At one level, the well-researched reports made by persons of eminence -Prakash Tandon, Rakesh Mohan and Kakodkar need to be acted upon. At another level, the organizational structure needs to be shaken.
The famous Railgate scandal that surfaced and shook the nation almost a year ago failed to make any dent in the collective psyche of the organization. What emerged was just one symptom of a flourishing malaise, but the disease continues to grow unchecked.
How can an organization, often considered the epitome of corrupt practices, meet the needs of a rapidly emerging nation?
Leadership or the lack of it has been a key issue with this gigantic organization. Vision has been the biggest casualty .
The departmental structure is the underlying reason behind this as it has created satraps, each with their own jagir. This has created a situation where almost everyone always has a perfectly valid reason for not delivering.
The arrival of a new government has signalled chang ing times and hope, both in the hearts of the common man and the honest bureaucrat.
Hopefully , the reasons behind the Railways performing below par and also regularly failing to meet the expectations of a nation on the move would now find suitable redressal.
Look at history . It took less than 25 years for the quadrilateral connecting the four metros to be built, and each hill railways took less than a decade to be commissioned. And, this happened in an era when both technology and transportation were primitive. That 80% of the route we have at present was built in the first 94 years with 20% taking the next 67 years says it all.
The solution lies in simplifying the maze of complex rules, procedures and processes that this monolith is mired in, spurred primarily by a feeling of mistrust that pervades like mist. The answer lies in restructuring and trimming the huge bureaucracy that complicates this organization each passing day .
Increasing route kilometres by quadrupling the golden quadrilateral to begin with, creating the much-needed new passenger and freight terminals and ushering in an era of real high-speed travel, among other goals, would necessitate a radically different approach that is beyond the capabilities of the existing structure.
Basic improvements, therefore, would need to be followed up by measures that usher in a true corporate culture. The nation cannot be held to ransom by an organization that underperforms in a target-driven business scenario.

Friday, June 20, 2014

THE RAIL "WAY"

It is generally accepted yet never practiced that unless we call a spade a spade and accept and also project the reality as it is, progress in the real sense would never materialize. After all the welfare of the nation needs to be at the core of all our actions always.

Modi’s thumping arrival on the national scene has heralded rapidly changing times and hope in the hearts of the common man and the honest bureaucrat. It is my fervent hope and desire that the reasons behind the railways continuously performing much below par and also with amazing regularity failing to meet the expectations of a nation on the move would now find suitable redressal.

It is sad that apparently there is no other way or forum in the railways where even an officer with over thirty four years of service can place his point of view with the hope that the powers that be would bring about changes, for the better. Unfortunately the communication is always downwards, never upwards and therefore the existence of the ivory towers far removed from ground realities.

Is it not surprising that I have never witnessed or partaken of a meeting or a conference in the railways where the welfare of the men who actually run railways and matters relating to ethics and probity in public life are discussed threadbare. Perhaps our inability to accept the realities and remaining in a denial mode forever has been spurred by the feudal and sycophantic culture that this organization now finds itself deeply enmeshed in.
The tragedy of railways has been that despite always being in the best possible business scenario, monopoly in a sellers-market in a nation as populous as ours, it has always found itself in a deep mess unable to meet the rising aspirations of a nation on the move. Perhaps now the time has come when this organization would overcome mere rhetoric and emerge as the economic lifeline of the nation provided it accepts its follies with an open mind and then boldly gets over them.

While initially after inception the railways grew rapidly, the growth post-independence has not been commensurate with the requirements of a developing and populous  nation. The reason lies not in lack of capability, but the slow yet regular injection of complexities in processes, both in decision making and contracting that have led to a scenario where paperwork takes more time than execution and the quality also suffers.  

Perhaps we need to revisit railways history. It took less than two decades and a half for the quadrilateral connecting the four metros to be built, and the hill railways, each one of them took less than a decade to be commissioned and this happened in an era when both technology and transportation was highly primitive. That 80% of the route we have at present was built in the first ninety four years with 20% taking the next sixty seven indeed says it all. 

The solution lies in simplifying the maze of complex rules, procedures and processes that this monolith is mired in, spurred primarily by a feeling of mistrust that pervades like mist. The answer also lies in the huge rudderless bureaucracy that infests this organization and is busy devising new restrictive procedures and rules every day. The deeply entrenched culture of feudalism and sycophancy also makes its valuable contribution in ensuring that the mess continues unabated.

The famous Railgate incident of merely a year ago was the tip of the iceberg, a symptom of a much bigger malaise that has been simmering ever since railways started going down the hill. Sadly even an incident of this magnitude has not led to a cleaning up exercise that was expected. Sometime back the railway was positioned as the most corrupt organization in the country. While the magnitude may be comparatively small, the spread of corruption in railways is wide and deeply entrenched. Today it is almost impossible for a commoner or a corporate to deal with the railways without the conventional greasing of palms and also incurring tremendous wasted effort. That the lower echelons of the railways also face similar music when dealing with the monolith dawned on me during my recent tenures in the northern railway where official vision was restricted to punctuality and expenditure figures with absolutely no concern for basic human values. How can an organization the biggest employer in the globe shy away from fundamental administrative and HR related issues and core value systems, yet talk about much bigger things?

It hurts when even the apex levels display taint, disregard for ethics and a dismal conduct, for it is then that hopes start receding into the abyss. And this scenario is borne out of the complexity of processes that shield both the inefficient as well as corrupt. A system designed for britishers to rule over natives, tweaked time and again spurred by mistrust has now emerged as the paradise for the corrupt and the shirker.   

We now have a rule for everything under the sun, and also the “tod” for each of these rules. Show me the man and show me the rule has emerged as the style of working of the railway bureaucracy. And we have a vigilance set up that treats even a deviation from a rule or procedure as malafide and in the process many suffer often for no fault of their won. The rationale behind keeping a sword hanging over the executives almost always, in an organization that often calls itself commercial is beyond understanding.   

Is this the way an organization that has a commercial department in tow, should function? An organization that regards a difference of opinion as dissent, is mired in archaic processes and is deeply entrenched in feudal practices will never really deliver in the long run. An organization that does not do anything to bring out the best in its men shall have to either abandon its archaic cloak or continue to function, albeit at the bottom of the scale.

Perhaps it is all about leadership, bureaucratic leadership that I am talking about. The system corrupted by total lack of objectivity as well as meritocracy is on expected lines abjectly failing in shoring up the best and consequently the results that we are saddled with. Imagine an organization where petty issues that impinge upon personal comfort are regarded more important than caring about the men who run the railways or the travelling public for whom the railways is run. The feudal trait is also amply reflected in the existence of saloons, the luxury apartments on wheels utilized for travelling by senior bureaucratic levels that would actually never blend with the scenario of dense crush load in trains or a developing yet poor nation like ours! Yet these mighty symbols of feudalism continue to roll on.

Even after thirty four years of service, I am clueless about the vision of this organization for none has ever been communicated and indulgence in sheer routine takes the better part of the working day of almost everyone. I am equally clueless about the grounds on which annual assessments are made – whether on delivery or sycophancy and invariably it is the latter. Fortunately the bulk of the functional staff is committed and it is they who are keeping the wheels moving. The senior officers on the other hand at almost all levels have been miserably failing in their role of providing vision & direction and making things easier for the field level functionaries.

The absence of even a single railway services officer is also a major issue. The Rakesh Mohan committee had recommended the abolition or merger of most of the nine services and creation of an Indian Railway Service. Unfortunately like all good reports this too was confined to the dustbin and the railways, continues to chug along with departmental officers who lack an overview of the entire organization with inter service rivalry playing its role in maximizing the damage. 

The solution lies in abolishing the bulk of the rules and simplification of almost all its processes. The presence of a pragmatic, honest and simple bureaucratic leadership that gives the go by to feudal practices and sycophants is the need of the hour. The solution also lies in drastically reducing the officialdom and questioning the existence of a three tier structure when we need only two. While the railway board with over four thousand on its rolls needs to be made lighter, the zonal headquarters that hardly have any substantive work and thrive only on controls have no rationale to exist. Clarity also needs to be brought in the functioning of the board, whether it is a policy making body or plain executive. Perhaps hiving off the policy making function to a ministry with the board remaining confined to routine executive functions would be the right way. 

Increasing route kilometres with quadrupling of the golden quadrilateral to begin with, creating the much needed new passenger and freight terminals and ushering in an era of real high speed travel amongst other dreams would necessitate a radically different approach that is evidently beyond the capabilities of the existing structure. Basic improvements in the existing structure may need to be followed up by corporatization and subsequent privatization for the nation cannot be held to ransom forever by an organization that fails to get its act together despite being in a dream business scenario.

Amen!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

RISE AND FALL OF A LEADER

Friday, 21 March 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped

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Arvind Kejriwal must take stock of the reasons why he has gone wrong. He will discover there are many of them
The ascent and descent of Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal have a commonality — both have been rapid and beyond comparison. The rise from an RTI activist and a street-level anarchist to the Chief Minister of the country’s capital-State left almost all political parties gaping and gasping. The rapid growth in his popularity and the clamour of even the most ordinary citizens of the capital to see him in the hot seat and take the city forward was indeed spell-binding and at times extremely astonishing.
It was clear that the people, who, over a period of time had grown sick of poor governance and rampant corruption, were rooting for a change. The first person who appeared capable of bringing in that  change was lapped up. Mr Kejriwal appeared as someone who has the rare blend of commitment, capability and integrity. His appeal to the masses to overthrow the State Government that looted the exchequer in the garb of preparing for the Commonwealth Games in 2010, therefore, did not go in vain. For the first time in the history of the nation, school-children and auto-drivers alike were enamoured of this strange man who emerged on the national political scene, almost overnight.
The ongoing rapid decline that we are witness to these days is also as dramatic and as astonishing as his ascent, even though the election results alone would provide the real proof. Total disenchantment withMr Kejriwal and his ilk is visible in the aam aadmi’s drawing rooms as well as at road-side discussions. His posters on the auto-rickshaws of Delhi have now been replaced by the posters of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, whom the nation apparently wants to see in the driver’s seat following the Lok Sabha election. It appears that Mr Kejriwal is a spent one-time phenomenon despite his integrity and a very short spell of governance. Even his detractors are convinced of his absolute inadequacy in giving results in the warped governance machinery of this nation.
So, what went wrong?
Mr Kejriwal went wrong in failing to live up to the expectations that he only helped fuel and fan. It is evident that he has miserably failed in his understanding of the tantra in his eagerness to govern. He raised expectations that obviously could not be fulfilled in a short time or in the flawed manner which he had adopted. This was his first folly.
The second was his penchant for taking up issues that were not within his competence. One fails to understand why he did not take up matters like improvement of infrastructure, schools, hospitals and basic governance that were within his domain. Instead, he wasted time and energy in trying to bring the police under his wings. Perhaps completing the ongoing improvement works at Connaught Place at the heart of New Delhi and giving it a new look would have given him a mileage that would have carried him far.
The third mistake on his part was his anarchic style of working. Threats and dharnas by the head of a State Government almost on a daily basis and then actually carrying one out in front of the Rail Bhawanearned him the ire of the masses. He failed to realise that even his supporters had turned away from an anarchist Chief Minister.
The fourth is his holier-than-thou attitude. He failed to realise that not everyone is tainted, when he painted everyone with the same brush. Mr Kejriwal’s accusations, sans substance, hurt him more than they harmed those whom these accusations and abuses were hurled at.
And, last but not the least, his utter failure in even attempting to build any credibility during the period he was in power, served as the icing on the terrible cake. He did not lose credibility — because he started with none and also ended with none. Had he moved in the direction of giving some results on the ground, results that the people of Delhi could have seen or felt, and then in a few months actually delivered something, his credibility, in the backdrop of his mass adulation, would have soared sky high. Even his acts of anarchy would then have been condoned by the people who have since moved away from him. His failure to appreciate that it is delivery and delivery alone that the nation is crying for, has cost him dear.
Mr Kejriwal frittered away that golden chance given to him on a platter. His is a case of failed and foiled hopes; a return seems unlikely. Perhaps it is in the fitness of things that the nation, for the sake of good governance, gets governed by those who know good governance, have the experience of delivering it on the ground, and who inspire confidence by their conduct, integrity and personality.