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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Manesar hurts

The Manesar incident has left most of us shell shocked.  That it is an offshoot of managerial indifference and the great disconnect that generally exists between the senior management and the workers in almost all environments that have a concentration of workforce is not in doubt, yet what is surprising is that it has happened in an organization ranked amongst the finest in the country.

Sarkari setups are generally marked by an ivory tower approach, the inhabitants of which display total disdain for those below and therefore productivity generally suffers. On the other hand the private sector that thrives only on deliverance is generally constrained to follow the good tenets of successful managerial practices, at the core of which lies genuine concern for HR. And therefore the incident of lynching of a senior manager by their very own men is surprising as well as shocking. And what is more shocking is the dismal failure of the management to respond timely to symptoms that start surfacing much in advance of such catastrophies.

The sheer brutality of the incident and the grief of the affected families is saddening and brings tears, yet the failure of the management that leads to a chasm conducive for such incidents, topped by its lack of sensitivity to signals that invariably emanate much before the cup spills is neither understandable nor pardonable.  A life has been extinguished and many more scarred, by an incident that should not have occurred in the first place. 

There is definitely something wrong in the cultural fabric of the nation that leads to a wide chasm between what we regard as the upper crust and the hoi polloi. Why the hell do we create such differences between human beings in a nation that needs to exploit the full potential of its populace is what I am unable to fathom.  Is “greatness’ a function merely of the seat one rests his backside upon?  Is a senior bloke who merely deals in paper greater than one who earns his daily bread by manual labor? And why a guy sitting on a stool facing the elements is always regarded a lesser mortal than the bloke cocooned in comfort? After all the greatest of the greats of this planet “Gandhi” was devoid of rank and attired in a loincloth almost all his life.  Yes it is true that life is much more than what mere rank, wealth and attire profess it to be.

The developed world is different. Peripheral differences triggered merely by differences in rank are generally non-existent. In developed societies even a worker on the shop floor is rendered the basic dignity that a human being deserves, by even the topmost layers of managerial hierarchy and this stark reality is easily visible across the society. I vividly recollect my first visit to the land of the “gori chamdi” in the early nineties when while walking on the shop floor of the mega diesel locomotive manufacturer “Krauss Maffie” I was pleasantly surprised to witness the bon-homie between the managing director and the machine operators. Quite a contrast with the prevalent scenario in our motherland where the top guy generally regards himself as a gift of god.  

An unfortunate scenario no doubt and look where it has led us to, almost at the bottom of the list of nations in almost all indices including the human happiness index. 

The higher a bloke rises in a hierarchial scenario, the better his vision is supposed to be. Moreover he is also expected to provide unstinted leadership to the organization and men under his command, yet the general scenario in almost all our organizations is in sharp contrast to what it should be. Yet the failure at manesar in an organization that has so far been regarded as the epitome of corporate governance  in the nation is neither desirable nor acceptable. If only a lesson aimed at a better future is learnt from this unfortunate incident, it perhaps may be the only redeeming feature of this extremely sad incident.


Friday, July 20, 2012

IR needs magicians

My extended stay in the railways is convincing me by the day that what IR really needs are magicians as the organization has crossed the line beyond which sanity has ceased to exist. The days of seeking outstanding officers are passe and only true magicians who work out of thin air can only survive.

I often go back to my childhood days when I used to watch with awe and appreciation a magician pulling out a chicken or a wad of notes from a hat that he had earlier convinced the gullible audience to be empty. That is what the organization needs now almost desperately, to produce wonders from thin air. And so the deep rooted aspiration of the organization for magicians to replace even the most brilliant set of officers whom I bump into with amazing regularity. Hilarious but true.

Yes, stunning delivery without inputs is the crying need of the hour.

It is sad but true that we aspire for delivery from almost all sections of this organization that once had a "great" affixed to its name, sans materials, manpower, funds system changes and even basic dignity, while at the same time dispensing on a platter rather liberally massive doses of charge sheets, advice and ridicule almost always.

How the hell I am going to bring about major changes in a system that is not designed for delivery, in an environment that has assiduously cultivated what can be conveniently cited as the antithesis of time tested and established value and managerial systems, shall remain my biggest concern.

Yet my belief that sheer willpower is a much more potent force than even what the deeply ingrained negatives in the railways can garner may be the only thing that shall save the day.

Insha Allah.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hope lives

My feelings on landing at Baroda House are almost akin to those that I had while descending on the hot seat of the Delhi division. The scenario is also almost the same with infrastructure and the human resource being the focus of bureaucratic apathy. In one of my earlier blogs I had questioned the existence of headquarters offices in the railway setups, citing them as redundant bodies that would contribute more to the railways if they closed shop and I still feel the same way. Yet the headquarters offices provide jobs to many and that is indeed a saving grace.

Rhetoric apart, it is a fact that a lot can still be achieved. In all my postings I divide the work in two distinct areas, one that can take place with a swing of my pen and the other that requires many more thumb impressions. And what one is empowered to deliver is also fairly substantial, though many of us fail to see the same from within the dense haze of what one is not empowered for.

Not withstanding the constraints and the archaic rules and procedures that prohibit delivery, it should be possible for the team to post spectacular results that based on my past experiences, I am certain would be forthcoming. Yes it would however necessitate infusion of a lot of energy, enthusiasm, gut and value systems in the bunch of youngsters that form part of my team. 

My team has always scripted major successes and this gives me hope as well as confidence to face challenges head on.

Insha Allah we shall succeed!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Touching new milestones in governance

The Karnataka episode is one of the sickest happenings in the national political scenario in recent times. That the governance of a state can be traded for the sheer appeasement of a politician who is regarded as the epitome of corruption and is known for his craftiness is a sad state of affairs. How much deeper is the pit still, is a question doing the rounds in the minds of all those who still have nationalistic feelings. What one really fails to appreciate is the claim of the main opposition to be called a party with a difference. Well if this is what the difference is all about, we citizens have really no alternative and have perhaps reached a dead end.

This blatant victory of corruption has made me sad. It was always sad to witness massive ill gotten gains of those who were regarded as the fountainhead of power and found their way to Tihar, sadder still is to knowingly bow down to corruption and appoint stooges of the masters of corruption to govern a state. While the wide reaching implications of this act of impropriety shall reverberate across the state shaking it to its foundations, the precedence that this one incident has set shall only bring further grief to this battered nation of ours.

The march to Tihar of the pillars of power and pelf that we witnessed with great satisfaction last year has also now reversed. All of them have since then marched out of the holy precincts and would be preparing to get on with the act at the earliest. It is indeed a pity that only a few months of comfortable incarceration in Tihar is the price to be paid for a level of loot that shall sustain generations. Unfortunate it is that the short spells of incarceration would provide sufficient motivation to all those who had always been waiting in the wings for a safe route to mint millions.

The absolute lack of organizational as well as national pride that the nation is witness to in its citizens is the root cause behind such events. The bureaucracy is also not much behind the politicos in its acts of hoisting corrupt and or inept bureaucrats to apex positions. Service by, of and for the self has merged as the mantra of the entire bureaucratic system.

It all boils down to dearth of leadership of the right kind. Unfortunately as the system deteriorates, it becomes increasingly difficult for the right kind of leader to emerge after loosening the vice like grip that a corrupt and inept system tends to possess.

I was speaking to a leading politician today, who called the scenario hopeless and mentioned that while this nation shall never become important, it may only remain relevant because of its huge population. An apt analysis of a nation on the move, rapidly downhill.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Heritage Matters

Having been actively involved for a considerable period of time in matters relating to heritage, I often wonder whether conservation of heritage should really be of concern for a nation steeped in poverty and way down in the list of developing nations. This despite the fact that results notwithstanding considerable effort is perpetually underway by various governmental and non-governmental agencies in bringing national focus on a subject that is at the core of our civilization and culture. My concern primarily twofold, one whether the effort is adequate and second whether it is really worth the while. Serious doubts and divergent viewpoints prevail and cast their shadow on the entire heritage scenario.

The efforts are apparently many though the general condition of the built heritage around the country and the manner in which the entire subject is handled raises serious doubts about the efficacy of the efforts as well as the men piloting the cause. That the nation has 34 sites that are classified as world heritage is a cause for satisfaction, but is merely piloting and ensuring world heritage nominations for 34 sites an achievement enough for a nation that lays claim to the oldest living civilization in the world. Yes, the entire process itself and the manner in which it is handled gives sufficient room for seriously doubting our intentions in heritage affairs.

Having experienced the subject first hand, I have no qualms in accepting that despite the shortfalls and the setbacks, an amazing amount of work has been done by the railways in this direction. A number of new railway museums have been set up, many of the hill railways have been brought on the world heritage list, one of the finest steam locomotive sheds in the world has been set up at Rewari and frequent runs of antique steam locomotives is inspiration enough for further committed heritage conservation efforts. On the contrary, with the exception of a few committed individuals like the Mohammad of the ASI, Ritish Nanda and a few more who continue non-stop with their mission of improving heritage sites, the rest of the efforts for a country the size of ours, can at best be called as pathetic.

The clamor for filing nominations for world heritage sites with all its attendant committees and NGO’s jumping in the bandwagon defies logic. Having been earlier responsible for filing successful world heritage nominations for two sites almost singlehandedly, namely the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Mahabodhi temple at Bodhgaya I am convinced that sincere committed efforts by a deeply involved bureaucrat is necessary and also adequate for preparing nominations that successfully pass the test. It is therefore rather unfortunate to witness the never ending cycle of discussions and confabulations merely for being able to successfully prepare and file a well deserving nomination, that of Delhi in the category of a world heritage city and yet, the nomination is still due past the first stage.

Why only world heritage status? Is this encryption and the numbers thereof are the only indicator of a nation’s richness and its commitment in matters relating to heritage? True it is that the international roving tourist has access to the list of places declared as world heritage and therefore the site witnesses more footfalls of the “videshi” kind, but is that it? While heritage remains the most visible and important component of tourism, the world over, the need to conserve the same also because the heritage of a nation warrants conservation for posterity cannot be denied. And therefore the need remains for a pragmatic and holistic approach that is not confined to merely filing world heritage nominations.

A few years back I had unsuccessfully mooted a concept of declaring sites as “National Heritage” on lines similar to “World Heritage”, but unfortunately the idea did not germinate. This idea emerged out of the notion that while the nation has 34 world heritage sites which remain the focus of conservationists and the sarkari machinery there is a need widen the focus from mere 34 sites by creating a second tier of say around two hundred sites that can be classified as “National Heritage” on lines similar and through a process almost identical to that for “World Heritage Sites”. Creation of a national heritage committee and establishment of a national heritage convention with the states, union territories and the archaeological survey of India as its members can perhaps be the first step in this direction with the detailed modalities being worked out in due course.

This second tier is essential also because the nation does not have the resources or the wherewithal to adequately conserve and maintain the over ten thousand sites that it perhaps has. Prioritizing, also in the matter of conservation of heritage is therefore an administrative compulsion that should emerge as a national priority. Subsequently, based on the success and experience gained over time, a third tier of “State Heritage” that may have almost a thousand sites can also be considered.

Let the efforts not remain confined merely to the realm of world heritage and they need to spill over to conserve in a greater depth the extremely rich heritage of this great nation.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The tombstones

One of the most interesting and hilarious aspects of railway working is the penchant among officials for attaining immortality by getting their names engraved in stone plaques placed ceremoniously during inauguration and foundation ceremonies. And quite unlike the systems elsewhere in the country, the railway stones generally have names of bureaucrats who may have had nothing to do with the project, except parking their backsides on high chairs and being present during the ceremonies.

And so my divisional office had over a hundred of such plaques for as insignificant an activity as renovation of a urinal and putting tiles in offices. The one incident that really had me in splits was when one of the senior officers was found searching for the plaque carrying his name that during his tenure as the head honcho was cemented on a wall for a shoddy renovation of the control office, but unfortunately was consigned to scrap during my plaque removal drive that began with an order restricting the engraving of my name on plaques.

The matter engraved on the plaques is extremely interesting at times. While it invariably has at the top the name of the bloke doing the honors, it also has names of a couple of blokes who matter and witnessed the sacred ceremony in a dignified way, that is what the plaque generally says. And that leads me to wonder whether others including the guys who did the actual work and the rest of the invitees had an undignified presence. I would really love to be apprised of how does one make an undignified presence at such ceremonies for that is what I intend to do in the future.

Perhaps this penchant to have names carved in stone is borne out of a desire to attain immortality and recognition by future generations without even twiddling the thumb. Pseudo immortality by shady means is how a sensible guy would look at it. The rapid proliferation such acts however gives confidence that future generations of such seekers of immortality would not spare any opportunity, even those of provision of new taps, flushing cisterns or commodes to carve their names in stone.

My visit sometime back to a heritage hill railway shocked me. Massive plaques adorning heritage structures had fallen terribly short of the professed objective because the plaques glorified the officials who were responsible for putting the plaque and not those who built the structure itself. Well a hundred years later, history would stand distorted when the names on the plaque would be mistaken for the names of the engineers who built the structure. Well this act is rather mild when compared to the inauguration of dustbins and toilet blocks by ministers, even in the capital city of Delhi. Such ceremonies definitely attract a lot of sniggers, but what are few sniggers in the quest for immortality.

My occasional walk in the railways eco-park is also made interesting by the very large number of plaques that adorn the campus almost everywhere, plaques that commemorate greens, toilets and stores, besides the gymnasium and restaurant blocks. It appears that the intense competition for recognition among the various past presidents of the complex led to such a spree in the installation of plaques.

I just am not able to appreciate this great national pastime of laying foundation and inaugural stones for almost about everything under the sun. Is it not the job of organizations to provide basic infrastructure like roads, public toilets or railway lines?. Why the hell do we then lay foundation or inaugural stones for carrying out routine obligatory functions. Or is it that the Indian society has become so bankrupt of achievements that even a toilet block or a new dustbin is considered a national achievement that should be celebrated. I am however not deriding these stones totally. Definetely we should lay foundation and inaugural stones for eight lane highways, power stations, fertilizer plants, large factories or if my imagination runs wild, say a new quadrilateral for the railways. These would definitely be achievements of stature and the builders or dreamers of them would deserve immortality, but not those of toilet blocks, dustbins or boundary walls.

If my point of view were to prevail, I would place an immediate ban on laying of any type of stone other than the tombstone. Let people be known and remembered for what they have achieved in life or contributed to the society, rather than by having their names engraved in granite or marble stones for petty acts.