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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hoping against hope!

Railways never ceases to amaze me. Just when I think that everything is lost, out of the blue comes a tremendous performance that defies all norms of conventional expectations. The tremendous performance however remains confined to the youngsters only with the old foggies, and I consider myself one, hardly having any say or contribution in its deliverance.

Believe me that the above comments have originated out of the brilliant performance of my officers, cutting across departments in the restoration work in the aftermath of the Kalka Mail accident of the 28th instant.

The senior echelons of the management also contribute by way of advises almost always delivered with the wisdom of hindsight in hand. Period. That is the contribution of the higher management levels when its role infact should be supportive and visionary. Is it not unfortunate that the 1.4 million strong organization is generally led by a group of people who are not leaders of men, but who on the other hand leave no stone unturned in castigating their team whenever things go sour.

Reactive management is perhaps an ideal term. A management that reacts on almost everything under the sun, a reaction that causes more damage to the system than the incident itself. Time established systems and conventions are distorted with impunity by pigmies who wish to leave their mark, even if by assisting in the sheer destruction of the organization.

And we have almost arrived. An organization that fails in the satisfactory completion of even low level mundane assignments is what we have become.

Yet, the brilliance of youngsters gives hope, a hope that all is not lost yet.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Royalty on track

The King & Queen of the tiny kingdom of Bhutan were like a whiff of fresh air. Receiving them at the quaint Safdarjung railway station was an honor for us railwaymen who also left no stone unturned in rising to the occasion in preparing the special train for the newlywed royalty. This royal train that shall ferry the King and the Queen across the state of Rajasthan for the next four days, may perhaps do much more for Indo-Bhutanese relations than many other acts and treaties.

Despite its inherent drawbacks and overcrowding, both inside and outside its system, the Indian Railways is yet a great organization. That it still manages to deliver and deliver fairly well despite a multitude of odds stacked against it is a wonder in itself. The Royal Train that was conceived only a few days back, was turned out neatly in all its splendour and also despatched in time by the hardworking and focussed officers and staff of the division. A perfect example of dynamic delivery in a nation where positive occasions are getting rarer by the day.

Perhaps all is not lost yet! Insha-allah.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Love for hangers on!

The highly feudal character of railways has given rise to a peculiar trait in recent times that of providing protocol to the higher rank officials. Senior officials demand and get protocol for as mundane an activity as visiting or arriving at railway stations. The higher the official is placed, the higher is the expectation for and from protocol arrangements. The sensitivity of this highly irrelevant practice should never be underestimated as the servility in providing protocol often forms the basis for evaluating an official or a department. The better halves of the protocol hungry officials also leave no stone unturned in reminding the puny officials that they also can be ignored only at the own peril of the junior officials.

I often find it strange that while the really powerful officials of the state like the cabinet secretaries and chief secretaries make do without protocol of any kind, much lowly placed, in the order of their utility to the organization and the nation, officials of the railways cannot step an inch without a senior railway official following in the tow.

The reason for this unusual penchant for hangers on in the guise of protocol arrangement perhaps lies in the rank inability of railway officers as a clan to be able to make any meaningful change in the surroundings that they live in. The absence of satisfaction from ones job invariably leads to deriving a warped sense of power that the protocol arrangements definitely provide to officials who are generally otherwise pygmies, both in stature and in their personal contribution to the organization or the nation.

Railways is perhaps the only organization in the entire nation where officers of the rank of joint secretaries to the government are a dime a dozen. And the organization therefore leaves no stone unturned in regularly reminding them of their worthlessness by assigning them on mundane protocol duties. Perhaps this is another way of showing disrespect for the entire officer clan, by a tribe of officials who have no respect for themselves either.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blog is the answer for my "Unsaid Thoughts"

1.Empowerment is non-existent. No officer from the lowest to the highest has any authority to take any decision that has a financial bearing. How can a bunch of powerless people bring a change or deliver efficiently is beyond my comprehension.

2.The entire system is based on mistrust. Every action requires a plethora of thumb impressions. There are inspections and monitoring galore. A request for support is met with by an advice on how to improve matters by more inspections and intensive monitoring. Matters are never accepted on their face value. Hidden intentions/interpretations are always assumed.

3.The decision making process is extremely complex. In fact it is much more complex than even state governments and central government ministries. Complex is actually a mild word.

4.Our contracting processes are also extremely complicated. Role of finance is debilitating in nature. We are increasingly ending up with unworkable low value contracts in all areas.

5.Our system of carrying out developmental works through the Works Program route is primitive, inefficient, illogical and cumbersome.

a.Nowhere else in the entire governmental system is there such a distinct and wide disparity between sanction and funds. Everywhere a sanction is followed up with release of funds. In railways sanction and release of funds are separate and unconnected exercises with the results that while projects are merrily sanctioned, funds are rarely given with the result that we have a massive shelf of sanctioned projects.

b.When a work is sanctioned, the executive has the authority of going through the work awarding process. In the absence of funds, we have ended up with a number of projects that are half complete. A scenario of locking funds without returns.

c.In the entire system, works valuing over 5 times the funds available are proposed year on year. Tremendous amount of wasted effort at all levels.

6.Our vigilance setup treats every violation of a rule or procedure or even minor deviation as a malafide with the result that no one has an inclination to take a tough decision that can have even a minutest element of risk. Delivery suffers badly in such a scenario.

7.The absence of a railway officer in the entire railway system has made matters worse. What we have are only departmental officers who never come out of the narrow confines of their departmental thinking. Nobody therefore watches/monitors the overall interest of the railways.

8.The existence of nine services where there is the need of only one is the crux of the problem. Tremendous fights/manipulation for top slots.

9. The organization also suffers from structure imbalances. Headquarters offices have only a negative role and therefore not required. Railway Board has more officers than all other central ministries put togethor. Too many brilliant brains with no work. What they can achieve is stoppage of work and that is what they all end up doing. The officer cadre should be radically downsized and railway structured on commercial lines.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Maintaining sanctity of processes!

Sanctity of processes and procedures is what all of us strive to maintain at the railways, irrespective of whether deliverance happens or not. It is true that deliverance in the railways has emerged as a by-product that may or may not take place, but we should always have at hand our excuses and reasons of non-deliverance for that keeps us safe, alive and climbing.

Somehow I am unable to appreciate the way railway works, despite being on the hot seat of Delhi for almost two years now. The way most of us railway men think and act foxes me completely. The penchant for the mundane coupled with the tremendous focus on penning down inspection notes and other A4 documents for others to read and improve matters has created a scenario where most of us are wasting their time without even knowing about it. The servile attitude that officers are more prone to display the higher they climb on the organizational ladder also does not help. Obeying orders is fine but restraining oneself from speaking out the truth and the ground reality just because it may be inconvenient for the powers that be, is something that is plainly unacceptable.

Tethering on the verge of bankruptcy, Railways is presently passing through a very crucial phase. Ever increasing volumes of traffic and the rapidly rising staff costs, coupled with the long stay on increasing passenger and freight fares has brought us to the verge. Any further period of inaction on resolving this imbroglio would see us nosedive into an abyss from which it would be almost impossible to emerge.

Despite the financial bankruptcy and the tremendous complexity of procedures, railways still manages to deliver in the form of running its quota of trains, a task that any other organization in the country would have miserably failed at. It is also gratifying that after a very long wait, there is also a silver lining in the form of a committed and humane bureaucratic leadership at the apex level.

Perhaps all is not lost yet, and we may yet emerge from the shadows.

Insha Allah!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

May God help us!

My recent meeting with a cabinet minister amused me no end. In fact with the rapid deterioration in value systems especially of those in power, the behavior that earlier used to evoke emotions of disgust, now only amuses me, that too only mildly. The cause of the meeting was once again the issue of encroachments on railway land.

People who would go to any extent in sacrificing national interests for purported electoral gains now throng the corridors of power. As expected, the Minister was not at all concerned about the blatant grabbing of government land by the land mafias in the garb of helping the poor. His only concern was his own vote bank that needed to remain intact to enable him to have another shot at power and thereby continue self perpetuation till eternity.

It is true that the politicians of today live only for themselves. Like the dalal street investor, they also invest in elections with the avowed aim of ensuring astronomical returns for the grand survival of all their future generations. The bureaucrats of today also follow suit aggressively, sacrificing both professional integrity as well as the financial absolutely. Like the politician the bureaucrat of free India with some exceptions has also learnt to live only for himself. His focus remains confined to his posting, house, promotions, foreign trips and other perks and like the politician he also sacrifices the organizational and national interest at the drop of a hat, for petty personal gains.

The overall scenario is disgusting and hopeless. How the hell shall this nation ever come out of the abyss that it finds itself in shall remain one of my biggest nightmares.

May God help us!