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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Barking up the wrong tree!

The fundamental issues facing the nation are all an offshoot of the low literacy levels arrived at by an almost negligible emphasis on education. On a lower plane however, the issues plaguing railways can be attributed to a faulty training system especially for the officer clan.

Our training institutes, unlike those of other services are regarded as sideline postings and therefore are almost always a hotbed of disgruntled officers, who remain under the notion that they have been given a raw deal by the organization. How can such officers be expected to impart leadership traits in a bunch of youngsters with fertile minds? And therefore the seeds of disgruntlement take root fairly early and take their toll as the officers find their way upwards in the railway hierarchy.

The emphasis on training routine technical matters to the youngsters is the culprit. Routine they shall anyway pick up in the first few weeks of their job assignment and therefore this emphasis is rather misplaced. The focus has to shift to training in administrative and leadership traits, traits that are conspicuous by their absence even at the apex levels in the system. Seeing the sad state of affairs in the organization, I am not surprised that the way of working in the railways is at direct variance with the established management practices that one comes across in all reputed management publications.

With absolutely no concern for administrative matters and routinely ridiculing their subordinates, the railway management trods along hoping that somehow things shall improve. Living in a fool's paradise is an apt term for the situation.

Our training modules are aptly designed for creating a pliant bureaucracy. A supple bureaucracy that does not have a mind of its own and is always eager to do the bidding, right or wrong of the powers that matter. And therefore there is no permanent focus, the focus always drifts to a new zone almost every day, guided by the misplaced sense of direction that happens to on the mind of the boss that day. And therefore a difference of opinion is almost always regarded as dissent and the best boys are those who happily swallow insults and carry out instructions without any consideration whatsoever for the merits of the same.

It is indeed sad that the training modules also do not lay emphasis on the pressing need to proactively handle our land and human resource, despite the railways being the largest landowner and the also the largest employer in the nation.

The emphasis remains on the routine and therefore mediocrity rules the roost.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Romancing Delhi!

It is packing time again. Hopefully the packing shall remain confined to the office only this time.

It is also a time for introspection, a look at the past on the rear view mirror. And the view is not what one would regret. Yes despite the misgivings about railways that I had just prior to landing on the hot seat of Delhi, I would regard my tenure as one that has given me satisfaction. Yes, much more could and should have been done, yet what was done was also unprecedented and that gives a ray of hope.

It is yet possible to change the railways. Difficult no doubt, but possible, though the effort is generally disproportionate to the results. Perhaps the inbreeding that we have had over decades has brought in tons of complexities in the system and therein lies the problem.

Despite the complexities in the system that have made deliverance almost impossible, the fine team of officers that I have, made things happen on the ground. The brilliance and the capability of almost all of my branch officers amazes me no end. What they could achieve has been stupendous, and this achievement, like all tremendous achievements has been achieved without friction or frayed tempers that are regarded as the hallmark of railway working. Yes, it is true that I have also learnt a lot from my brilliant team of officers including the two ADRM's who shouldered almost everything and left nothing to be done by the DRM.

And that made change possible. A change is a change only if it is visible to a rank outsider and that is what my team made possible. Environmental changes at stations, offices and colonies have started showing. Even streaks of cultural changes are also now visible at times. I have always maintained that brilliant performance in work as well as play is always smooth and this smoothness is now amply visible thereby giving me tremendous satisfaction.

The character certificate given by the CAG of India and the three national awards that the division picked up during the last two years are also a cause of immense satisfaction. I can only hope that the good work shall continue and I shall keep on getting good reports.

What next? Time to move on. Time to change something else somewhere else. That is what life is all about!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

An ode to Gandhi

Sabarmati Ashram is an island of serenity. It has an invisible aura and feel about it that can only be experienced, not explained.  Yes, this place was home to the rarest of the rare human being who walked on this planet, a person as close to divinity as there could be one.

My visit to the ashram yesterday, had a soothing effect on my entire persona. Despite the hot environment outside, the ashram and its galleries had a soothing feel about them.  It was as if the soul of the father of the nation resided in the place.

The thoughts of Gandhiji evocatively displayed in the gallery stirred my inner self once again. While his thoughts covered a very wide variety of subjects and issues, what really stands out is his stress on the need for equal dignity for all living creatures, poor or rich, high or low, adult or child. It is indeed  sad that the masses of this nation, despite their professed reverence for the mahatma, have given a total go-by to this beautiful thought.

“Truth is God” is another famous saying of the mahatma. An extremely deep thought that imparts a totally different meaning to life.  If only some of us could imbibe this thought at our workplace and home, the nation and the society would be freed of almost all of its ills.

That the relevance of the thoughts of this frail man who walked this earth till sixty five years ago is increasing with passage of time is a thought that dawned on me as I entered the modest house where the mahatma and Ba lived for a considerable period. That this man who lived so simply, was so frail and wore only a loincloth could shake the foundations of the mighty british empire simply on the strength of his character and convictions conveys a much deeper sentiment, even partial emulation of which shall change the lives of the people of this nation.

Strength of character and unassailable convictions on part of the powers that be are essential ingredients for the success of the nation. If only the people of this nation appreciated the essence of what the Mahatma said!

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.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Railway blues!

That authority and accountability should never go hand in hand is a theory practiced to perfection in the great railway system of the country. With the field levels totally dis-empowered, the so called power vests only in the hands of those who are never answerable for day to day or even long term operations. Is it not strange that not even one executive in the entire railway system can boast of even minimal financial authority in his domain and all decision makers have to be at the mercy of the backroom boys?

I find it difficult to accept that a guy who is just not responsible, besides being less committed, less knowledgeable and maybe of integrity levels lower than the executive, almost always sits on judgement on issues related to execution. This system is just not acceptable and warrants a change, if a change has to be brought about in the organization.

Why such a major dichotomy is not even visible to the top echelons defies logic?

The ivory tower approach is failing the railways day in and day out. Being as far removed from ground realities as possible is what the railway bureaucracy has wisely learnt. For it is only when one is far removed from ground realities, that the art of sermonizing can be safely and conveniently practiced. And the sermons are varied and plenty for it costs nothing to create and dispense them far and wide.

Evaluations, not based on results, but on attributes is another deadly trait adopted and regularly practiced by the upper bureaucratic crust of this monolith. This ensures that the emphasis remains confined only to processes with the objectives conveniently fading away till they are hardly remembered. The counter productive proliferation of inspection notes being issued by all and sundry and senseless counselling sessions of the field level staff are the most visible offshoots of the deadliness of this widely practiced trait. This one trait has successfully brought amazing levels of distortions in the system that is now almost at a standstill, but for the sincerity and loyalty of the supervisory cadre of the railways.

Too many of us in the upper crust, busy ruining well established practices and the system, yet downsizing unfortunately remaining confined to the supervisory and lower levels that are already reeling under massive shortages.

Hats off to the railway bureaucracy for achieving perfection in the fine art of appearing busy without an iota of deliverance.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Public Service

Is it really public service that we are talking about? Sitting on a fairly high platform that offers me immense visibility, I am rather convinced that it is all about service of the self and for the self. The service of the public servants at large and definitely the “aam aadmi” is not even on the horizon.

Strange are the ways of the bureaucracy. While calling oneself a public servant is definitely the most visible connotation of power, the bureaucrat at large considers it below dignity to perform any action that smacks of public service of any kind. Public disservice it definitely is, for how does one explain the large scale misuse of manpower and other official facilities by the category of people classified as “public servants”?

These so called servants generally do not have any consideration for the pulse of the public, pulse that is amply visible through the print and electronic media. Consideration for the pulse of the boss it is, for how does one explain our total indifference to basic issues that plague railways like severe backlog of infrastructure and highly demotivated workforce and yet waste time on irrelevant issues senior bureaucrats may espouse. Reaction to  basic issues that plague the public at large is also conditioned by the response of powers that be, and not by the seriousness or relevance of the Issue itself.

How the hell this focus less organization move forward in the present turbulent times is what I am unable to fathom. Perhaps diverting the blame for the ills of the organization at the altar of the political supremo may be the only course of action that our bureaucracy may find convenient.

Strange it is. Public servants blaming the public representatives for their own fiasco’s.

The blame game continues. The organization continues to sink deeper, yet the public servants continue to have a good time at the expense of the public.