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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Battling Corruption

Hon'ble Prime Ministers address from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 15th of August touched the inner chords in the hearts of many of us. While talking about the menace of corruption, one could clearly feel his passionate resolve to eliminate it from the national fabric. That the Chief Executive of the nation feels the pain of the common man who is affected daily by this menace, is a cause of immense satisfaction and pride.

Having worked in the system for over four decades with adherence to value systems at the core of my working, I realize that corruption even after seventy five years of freedom, is still a deep rooted disease engulfing many facets of the tantra of governance cutting across sectors and state boundaries. 

For a common man, and it is true, it is almost impossible to interact with any part of the tantra without going through harassment or graft or both. Everyday we read about raids and recoveries of immense cash from those in power, a job that the investigative agencies are doing to the best of their abilities, yet have merely scratched the surface so far.

That the present Government has come down on corruption with a sledge hammer is indeed heartwarming. 

Having handled many massive organizations, I realize that corruption is not a disease but a complex symptom of many areas that would need to be redressed. And the first and the foremost is the organizational culture. Adherence to value systems and that too driven by the top echelons is as essential as the focus on delivery. During the course of my journey however I found it sad that issues relating to integrity, conduct and behavior were never considered worthy of discussion in official forums.  

It is indeed essential to put on table issues relating to integrity, conduct and behavior for a meaningful  impact. During my stint with Madhya Pradesh Tourism, we had almost eliminated corruption by organizing "Corruption Conferences", with the first conference held in 2007 making a massive dent. 

And there should never be any pardon for an act of dishonesty or a conduct that is undesirable. Those who indulged in cases of corruption, sexual harassment and drinking on duty were never pardoned and given exemplary punishment. While mercy is a virtue, it fails to be so if dispensed in such cases. 

Culture is the most important strength or weakness whether it is organizations or societies. This is what differentiates between mediocrity and greatness. Unless the core issue of corruption is handled head on while also taking sustained steps to inculcate a culture of honesty in the society, we would keep on discussing the issue ad-infinitum. 

With hope, we live on..........

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The ultimate virtue is Courage

I am back after a long hiatus, the reason being the unavoidable writers itch.

Yes the mind today was occupied with what is right and what is wrong and how can we guide people and organizations on the right path. Being ethical and having a very strong belief in fundamental human values and practicing the same with ease in the daily routine is what the real challenge of life all about. 

Having led many large organizations and dealt men in tens of thousands has brought me to the conclusion that the ultimate virtue is being a good human being and treating others as one would like to be treated by others. Easier said than done but a path that should be pursued by all as long as one is alive. 

It is a path on which collective guidance and collective mobility is the need of the hour. 

I often wonder what is the ultimate virtue for a human being. What is the mother of all virtues, that encompasses all other virtues. Is it integrity, humility, being ethical or something else. Does being of a high integrity cover all other good traits and does being humble mean that the person would stand up for a fellow human being in need or will he be prudent and weigh the pros and cons regardless of what is right. Can mere integrity and humility propel societies and organizations forward. Yes these are essential traits but are they complete by themselves I often wonder.

Life on a roller coaster is how how I would define my life so far. Plethora of postings at a variety of places and several diverse organizations have led to an experience that many would consider an unmatched one. Riding the sine wave with its ups and downs have instilled in me a very strong belief that the Courage to stand up for what is right is the ultimate all encompassing virtue.

Indeed it is the Virtue or Value Number One.

I have come across honest and the dishonest, humble and the arrogant, sincere and the insincere, soft spoken and the blunt ones, almost in thousands, but have rarely come across people who have the courage to stand up for what is right regardless of the price that may be required to be paid. All high sounding dialogues and proclamations fade into oblivion when the moment of reckoning arrives. Yes there have been few and the finest example is that of Mahatma Gandhi, who have the courage to stand up when the the moment arrives, but those could be counted on fingertips with a couple of fingers to spare. 

Yes a man who can remain erect when the moment of reckoning arrives, has to be honest, sans ego, soft spoken, humble and with all good traits. 

Courage indeed is the mother of all virtues and it is not about the size of the biceps, the post that one flaunts or the money stashed away. Gandhi had courage of conviction and that led this one frail man in a loincloth taking on the might of the British empire and getting India her independence. 

Yet how does such values get inculcated in as many as possible and the answer is simple: by putting them on the table, by talking about it as frequently as one can and by the leader practicing them for others to emulate. 

Practicing is indeed not the right word for values, perhaps living them with ease is. Yes for the world to be a better place, we have to live a life of goodness and there is no goodness without courage. 


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Harnessing the potential

A bold intent has been displayed by the government in announcing the massive widespread disinvestment of public sector enterprises. Yes the government is bang on, the true potential of these enterprises can be harnessed only by privatization.

The true objective is to harness the potential and privatization is apparently the means to an end. Exploiting the full potential would give a great boost to the nation’s economy and ultimately the standard of living would go up.

Where have we faltered and we in this case is the sarkari tantra that controlled, guided, gave shape and to top it all laid down the ground rules and the boundaries for these enterprises to perform.

Why these enterprises have not been able to perform as well under public ownership and sarkari management as they would under the ownership of a member of the public and management by individuals picked up based on merits.

Yet the fact remains that organizations that performed miserably while in government control blossomed with a change of ownership. I remember a doyen of the private sector keen on acquiring the national carrier telling us that he would give results without changing even a single employee as he did in all the units that he acquired earlier. He rightly put his finger on the incapability or perhaps the inability of the managements placed by the governments; to manage well.

And it is so true. Both inability due to constrained processes and gross mismatch between authority and accountability and incapability for the process to appoint heads of businesses that the enterprises actually are leaves much to be desired.

There are only a few pain points but they impart all the pain. The foremost is the tendering system that is indeed the bane of the nation and has proven almost impossible to handle. This process that takes the scalps of many invariably has in the long run proven to be more important than the end result itself, that of entering into the contract for supply or execution of goods, services or projects. The tendering system needs to be simplified and not cast in stone for in my view a process cannot be given a place higher than the objective for which the process was actually put in place.

Rank mistrust at all levels and the glorification of agencies that merely find faults in hindsight or counsel others on how they should be doing their jobs has caused damage deeper that what is apparent at first sight. A deviation from the written word even for attaining the higher good has almost been criminalized and the fine distinction between a mistake and a malafide has been thoroughly blurred. As a result while corruption could not be checked, initiative has got subdued nice and proper.

And there is a glaring absence of incentive and premium on deliverance. People who deliver should not be fearful and fear if any should be openly dispelled. The supremacy of deliverance if established can  place the public sector at par with the private for after all it is actually the same Indian guy who is manning positions in the entire public and private sectors regardless of the shades of ownership. In one he is encouraged to deliver while in the other he is afraid to go the extra mile that deliverance warrants.

While to me it appears possible, perhaps it may not be easy to change the working environment in the public sector and disinvestment has rightly emerged as the inevitable administrative compulsion.

The objective is economic growth and we need to move forward on the path that takes us there.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

COVID - the great leveller

Coronavirus when it first attacked in the beginning of this year was seen as a virus that would be controlled. Nobody then imagined the wrath that the virus would unleash on mankind cutting across national boundaries and class differential.

I vividly remember the 30th and 31st of January this year when we went to the delhi airport to meet air Indians who were flying on a jumbo to Wuhan to evacuate Indian citizens, Wuhan that we all knew had an outspread of the virus. No one at that time looked at Wuhan as the epicentre of an incident that would shake the world and humanity to its bare bones. At that time we all thought that this calamity has struck a remote city in another nation and there was not even a remotest thought of us also bearing the brunt. Even our manager in Shanghai telling us of a complete lockdown in the city did not result in realization dawning upon us.

That is how calamities are – we all think that they would happen to someone else till they actually strike us.

The month of March started throwing hints. By then the virus had landed on the Indian soil and Kerala was witnessing growth. The festival of colors Holi was subdued and the excitement on the roads, trains and airports had started waning. Mid-March during my visit to Mumbai and Goa, I witnessed empty airports and no traffic jams even on the roads of Mumbai. The terror had started striking.

The one day lockdown on the 22nd of March brough the nation face to face with the impending reality and people started bracing up. Since then the onslaught of the coronavirus has been steadily growing and the country has crossed the one million mark on its journey to god knows where.

It is indeed creditable that India woke up in all seriousness much earlier and that justifies the comparatively lower numbers. Yet the seriousness of the situation remains beyond doubt.

This incident is and would perhaps change the world and the human race almost on a permanent basis. Never could we in the wildest of our dreams could imagine the closure of airlines, railway systems, shops and malls and almost the entire eco system for so long in totality. The dance of technology, wealth and comfort had made us oblivious of anything that could change our lifestyles so drastically. With travel even of a petty intercity variety becoming a project, travelling from a nation to another on business or leisure appears a far cry atleast in the foreseeable future.

Work from home with the eyes and attention rivetted on the computer screen has become the new normal, though it can never replace a physical human to human connect.

Unlike other diseases that respected rank and wealth, this virus is so contagious that in the process it does not differentiate between rich powerful nations and those of the developing or under developed variety, nor does it avoid infecting the rich and the powerful breed of humanity.

The great leveller is upon us till a vaccine is found – the earlier the better.  

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Corona would change us

All eyes are now on the Corona or the post Corona scenario. Whether the lockdown gets over on the 14th, is extended fully or released partially in phases is what the over 1300 million inhabitants of India have on top of their minds these days.

And I do not envy the sarkar. It has done a great job so far, yet this mother of all decisions will never find favor with everyone, either way and therein lies the tragedy. 

In any case what is certain is that it would not be the same world anymore. The feeling of being a master, an absolute one at that would indeed be shattered even for the high and mighty and the presence of a supreme power would stand ingrained. 

Never before has the human race felt so helpless, confined to their homes for the fear of being infected by a virus that cannot be conquered even by the mightiest guns of the universe. Never before the movers of the nation, the great indian railways been grounded for so long and never before the planes had been lined up all over the airports even on the runaway. And runaways are meant for a takeoff not for lining up grounded planes that would not be taking off till god knows when. 

The world would indeed be a changed place. People apprehensive of travel, those who hardly set their foot on their own soil afraid to go beyond the shores for fear of a lockdown or being quarantined that one never imagined in the past. And the migrant labor may not remain migrants anymore thereby impacting the informal economy more than what can be assessed. And having lived this scenario, a precedence has been firmly set, and after all is life not only about precedences.

How one wishes that all this turmoil, the fear and the apprehensions, the realization of being minuscule in face of the unknown reality of the universe converts this human race for the better, devoid of false vanity, pride and ego and deeply rooted in the welfare of humanity.


Friday, March 27, 2020

Eyes beyond the Corona

It was only in movies so far that we witnessed hordes of people getting affected by viruses of a highly dangerous kind and that impacted the society like never before. Corona so far is apparently not in the same league like its counterpart in films, yet has created a scare like never before impacting global societies regardless of the economic or power strata those infected may belong to. Corona the great leveler has impacted the developed world more than the underdeveloped and has gone further in infecting many of the high and the mighty too besides the masses at large.

Lockdown, a word that was since used only with reference to industries whenever they faced an economic crisis or a labor upheaval has now become applicable to countries with many going under lockdown in the fond hope of recovering from the ghastly impact of the deadly virus of the twenty first century.  And apparently a complete lockdown that would lead to social distancing is the only solution. Perhaps if many of the nations that are presently leading the number of infections had acted as promptly and as boldly as India acted, the overall scenario might have been much more conducive.

Yet what needs to be faced would be faced and the price that would need to be paid would be paid. There is no escaping this hard reality regardless of the scale of the wealth and the power that different nations possess.

There is always light at the end of the tunnel and sooner or later we would have moved ahead of the era of the coronavirus. And why not, the resolve to successfully win this battle against the scourge of the virus is visible so boldly in India and in many other nations.

And therefore there is also a need to look beyond and initiate preparation for the same as soon as the impact of the virus starts showing a declining trend.  Often there are hidden opportunities in even the darkest of circumstances and we need to look for them even if it is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.

Travel and tourism is one such area that has the fastest and the biggest multiplier effect on the economy and employment. With almost all international and many domestic flight curtailed across the globe, it would be some time for the traffic to pick up even after the virus passes away. I really do not see international travel reaching the pre corona levels even two to three years after complete recovery, primarily due to the apprehensions that many of us would now have whenever leaving the shores of the motherland. The impact of the corona and the almost complete shutting down of the airlines across the globe, perhaps for the first time ever is indeed a turning point in how tourism would indeed take place in the future.

And the solution lies in planning during this period for exploiting domestic tourism to the hilt, an exercise that would continue to pay rich dividends for all times to come. Let us start creating a desire to explore the richness of our own country. Let people see their own India with its finest collection of tourism destinations, hardly explored due to the false yet widely prevalent notion that tourism is generally about long distance and mostly beyond the shores travel. A very aggressive dose of publicity and promotion that has the rich culture of the nation at its core and development of tourist infrastructure like signages, interpretation, souvenir shops, last mile connectivity and way side amenities needs to be planned and quickly implemented to enable taking the full advantage of the opportunity that lies within despite the scourge of the virus. 
The transport infrastructure in the organized sector like the railways, airlines, buses would need to be very quickly brought back to life and in full swing. The lull period can be utilized in carrying out thorough maintenance of the fixed infrastructure, improving passenger facilities in the moving or flying infrastructure and carrying out much needed systemic improvements that almost all organizations vie for. We need to appreciate that despite the restrictions that corona has imposed on human beings, such blatant freedom to maintain and improve the generally very heavily utilized infrastructure would hardly ever surface in future. Obviously easier said than done, yet the moot point remains that this exercise should remain on the radar and genuine efforts can be made to find ways and means to do that.

Similar strategy needs to be examined for other industrial establishments, factories and service sectors. This is the time, and a very precious one at that for carrying out improvements that otherwise would not be possible for availability of infrastructure in an unutilized state.

Let us all remain positive, for positivity is the biggest asset especially in a downcast scenario. And we are blessed by a government that is doing the best that is possible and acting in a manner that is the envy of even the developed world. And that gives many of us the confidence that together we shall overcome the challenge of the present times and emerge much stronger in the future.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Air India story

All the major public enterprises that came my way had one commonality – its bureaucratic and political masters missed no opportunity to castigate the organization and its men for its problems. 

It however does not stand to reason that anyone other than the owner can be assigned the primary blame for the decline of an organization. We are yet to hear of a private sector enterprise in which the blame for its debacle was laid at the altar of its employees as it is invariably the owner who partakes of the nectar of success or the poison of failure.

It is indeed grossly unfair that Air India and its men have been unfairly castigated almost always for its dismal state of affairs. This very unfair reality needs to be placed in the right perspective.  

Air India and Indian Airlines were two perfectly fine airlines till they were merged in 2007. The decision to merge was not of the airlines but that of the owner, the Government of India and more specifically the then Ministry of Civil Aviation. This merger was not a minor affair for it put in great turmoil both organizations with seniority groups merging both at officer as well as staff level. With differences in HR policies, pay scales, designations, processes, structures and above all culture there was no way this merger could have led to anything other than a nightmare. The Justice Dharmadhikari committee that followed and in all fairness made efforts to sort out the imbroglio yet the merger stoked the very divide that it sought to extinguish with issues and emotions continuing to simmer even after over a decade. The organization immediately thereafter started following a downward trajectory that resulted in losses piling up.

The then government also took another decision, often regarded as controversial, that of purchasing planes of both Airbus and Boeing variety in bulk. And in all fairness it can be said that had that not been done, Air India of today would not be an airline for there would have been no planes in its arsenal. What really affected the airline badly was making it take loans to pay for the massive purchase. Even after some planes being sold off subsequently, the capital burden on account of purchase of planes and the interest charges thereon almost equals the equity infusion so far by the government against its so called turn-around plan.   

It is evident that the oft repeated statement of a dole being extended to Air India for its survival does not hold water. It is simply a case of the owner of a company paying for the capital goods purchased by it at the owner’s specific instance.

Both the loans taken for aircraft purchase and the piling up of losses triggered by the merger took the airline into a debt trap. And these losses the company started accumulating immediately after and because of the merger, a situation aggravated by the ban on fresh recruitment, high fuel prices, increasing competition from the private sector and at times an inept or conniving management. Yes the fact remains that the company was allowed to be in losses for almost ten years at a stretch, a totally unacceptable scenario.  

There is generally nothing wrong with the indian public sector except the way it is governed and the way it governs itself. Public sector enterprises that need to compete with the private, like the national carrier find themselves at a serious handicap for the inherent restrictions imposed by the general financial rules, tendering processes, multiplicity of masters and the onslaught of the three watchdogs that treat a mistake or a malafide on the same footing, make survival in a competitive environment almost untenable.   

It is a very difficult scenario that the public sector in India is generally faced with, yet it performs and therefore needs to be lauded not castigated. And moreover it is not as if the constraints are cast in stone, these are process issues that can be addressed provided there is a will. 

The Indian Public Sector is indeed at crossroads. Hamstrung by crippling constraints and castigated for inadequate deliverance, it has found a solution in disinvestment. The crippling constraints, dampen deliverance and the only way their potential can be fully exploited is by letting them free, an environment that only the private sector can provide. 

There are no easy answers, and the easiest path therefore emerges as the only alternative.