Powered By Blogger

Popular Posts

Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fatal mediocrity!

Mediocrity is dangerous; it is almost fatal if it rules the roost at apex levels in organizations. The boss then resorts to belittling his subordinates almost always thereby ensuring that his mediocre abilities remain shrouded in curtains. Another star strategy is to engulf the entire organization in run of the mill affairs thereby ensuring that rank incompetence in handling major issues never comes to the fore.

It is indeed painful to witness a scenario wherein those manning top positions use abusive language with the officers and staff reporting to them and derive vicarious pleasure in the discomfiture of their subordinates. 

The future of the organization appears rather bleak on witnessing the top guy shrieking at his subordinates in fits of rage. The abusive language and the fits of rage however subside at sixty when the guy suddenly becomes an epitome of dignified behaviour and cherishes the company of very those whom he abhorred till very recently.

Inbreeding and that too in massive dosages is the reason for such behaviour. Injection of outside blood, at apex levels to begin with may give a fresh perspective and also perhaps the realization that shrieks and abuses are not the best way to run organizations.

God help such organizations. Amen!

Monday, October 29, 2012

India whining!

We would ultimately get what we deserve, despite exhortations to the contrary.

The recent uproar against corruption needs to be viewed in its true perspective.  Yes the CWG, 2G, Adarsh, Coal G, DLF and the disabled, all purported scams of an impressive order rightly highlighted by the recent crusades have brought corruption center stage in this nation that has always silently accepted a customary greasy interaction of the masses with the sarkari tantra. Customary because it has almost become a custom in this nation for sarkari mulazims to seek payment for services rendered and silently because the practice is so deeply pervasive that even a thought of deviation appears sacrilege. The sarkari tantra therefore is seen by the populace as machinery meant to rule not serve and therefore any service by it is regarded neither a right nor an obligation.

Why this great national aspiration for political or bureaucratic careers, the fundamental components of the tantra? During the initial years post independence, the aspiration was to serve the nation and the political or the bureaucratic route was obviously the only one available. For Nehru, Patel, Shastri and many other politicians of that era, a position was merely a means to serve the nation, a nation that they indeed served selflessly. Such high levels of dedication and commitment are unfortunately now passé. The bureaucrats of that era were also full of nationalistic zeal and fervour that vanished in a few decades. The times have indeed changed and an impeccable conduct on the part of a politico or a bureaucrat is now generally considered out of the ordinary.

Many would hold the system responsible and rightly so, though it is a system that we had the liberty to design and evolve. Yet we miserably failed if the yawning gaps in almost all sectors are any indication. Perhaps our misdirected efforts that veered us away from providing a sound educational system to the nation led to the current morass and a sound national character never got built. The political arena that earlier witnessed the entry of only highly committed and principled citizens slowly became more and more difficult as well as costly to enter. With passage of time many started viewing politics as an enterprise where an initial investment leads to hefty benefits in the long run. Mere commitment and the desire to do something for the nation were slowly proving to be inadequate reasons and this shift is the root cause behind the massive indulgence in corrupt practices and muscle power by politicians in connivance with bureaucrats, few exceptions apart. 

Simultaneously, the bureaucracy also miserably failed in sticking to the high ground that its forefathers had set at the onset of a free nation. The growing rut that the bureaucratic system steadily witnessed ensured that a sarkari job started being looked upon as the best route for a comfortable existence in a nation plagued by shortages and a worsening economic scenario.  

With few exceptions that can generally be counted on fingertips, power and money have now emerged as the sole motives for entering the political or the bureaucratic arena. An extremely unfortunate scenario for a nation that after over six decades of existence as a free nation is still bracketed as developing, a situation that displays no signs of abetting in the foreseeable future!

Both India and China gained independence at almost the same period, yet China has emerged as an economic powerhouse with an infrastructure at par with the best in the world and India? India is still grappling with basic issues of sanitation, roads, power, water and housing and above all abject poverty and deprivation, issues that unlike other developing countries are amply visible even in the capital city of Delhi.  The situation in the villages and towns in the back of the beyond is beyond perception of the cocktail crowd. Many would however argue that China being a communist nation could do things that a democratic India could not.  Partly true but the rapid prowess of Germany and Japan in almost the same period after their almost thorough demolition during the second world war would appear inexplicable to most of us. And Japan is a nation that has a much higher population density than India. A high population turned to an advantage through able governance. Yes, the excuses that most of us trot out for the glaring failures of the nation may appeal in isolation, but would fade away if viewed with a global perspective.

It is primarily a directional failure. When India came of its own in 1947, it had no real infrastructure except perhaps the railways built by the british, yet what it had in plenty was a burgeoning population that unfortunately displayed symptoms of poverty and deprivation. The only way the abject poverty and deprivation could have been tackled and the country placed on a growth path was through education, education that would have enabled the citizens to get jobs and indulge in enterprise. Unfortunately it was not to be. If we were really educated, we would have appreciated that the only thing that can take a nation forward is delivery, delivery that leads to generation of wealth for economic growth. We would also have appreciated that our sincerity towards the nation can only be assessed by our own actions and mere pontification would not take the nation anywhere. We have also failed to realize that the only way we can contribute positively to nation building is by ensuring that all our actions lead to enhanced production of goods and services. The very fact that all of us, including those in the service of the sarkar look upon the government to somehow, through a sleight of its hand, take us out of the morass we are living in, speaks volumes about the national mindset.  

Nations do not rise sans toil and sacrifices of its constituents and merely achieving consumer goods in plenty can by no stretch of imagination be regarded as the sign of a nation having arrived. Nation building takes decades of concerted efforts and mere rhetoric can at best give false expectations. That there is no alternative to a sound educational system either is a thought that needs to go deep in the psyche of the government machinery to enable true development, not merely marginal spurts and pockets of delivery and excellence that can be showcased only for taking the world for a ride.   

Perhaps the will is there but the flesh has always been weak. If only wishes were horses!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Giants and Pygmies

Perhaps my blog may have been successful in conveying an impression that there is much to be desired from all those who occupy apex level positions in the railway system. Yet despite the rot, I have come across many who would not fit the general bill of today as they stood out as stalwarts both as officers as well as human beings. It is indeed unfortunate that most of us do not appreciate the basic truth that the foremost  prerequisite for being a good officer is to be a genuine human being and therefore generally display tendencies and behavior suited for human beings fairly low in the pecking order in so far as humanity is concerned.

Shailendra Kumar Budhalakoti the only man who literally adorned the chamber of the General Manager of the Northern Railways is one such man, the likes of whom one does not bump into these days. His tearful farewell was also perhaps the first farewell that was shorn of sycophantic connotations when a boss is poised to move upwards or utter disdain when a boss is about to move into oblivion. A highly courageous man who had the ability to stand up for his subordinates unlike many others who lick their superiors and kick their subordinates, Budhalakoti shall always be remembered and revered for his humanity, humility and above all guts.

Romesh Chandra Sethi who retired as the top honcho of the diesel locomotive works at varanasi has been another person who hardly exhibited any of those qualities that the railway brass is generally known for. A terrific leader of men, he deeply touched the lives of each one of us who worked with him. A man who had the courage of his convictions and could therefore take setbacks in his stride, Sethi, a terrific speaker who can keep even large mobs spell bound with his oratory, shall always remain family for me and many. 

Ravindra, the Chairman of the Railway Board in the late nineties is another such leader of men who shall always remain an icon of perfection for many. His humanity and humility have indeed given him a halo that is difficult to gloss over. Clarity of purpose and guts to take uncharted decisions were his strongest qualities as the chief executive of the railway system.  A legendary figure who made almost all his successors appear like pygmies, he shall also always be remembered as perhaps the finest example of a chief executive of the railways in recent times.

Gujral with whom I never worked earlier has also left his impact on the railways, with his farsightedness and the uncanny ability to take bold decisions in the interest of railway operations. Crossing 200 million tonne mark is his own personal achievement .

The four giants who left an indelible impression on the lives of the people they interacted with and the fleet of pygmies that one bumps into these days, that is what contrasts are all about.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The naked truth

The turmoil that the masters in the art of corruption have presently brought about in the nation is appreciable, if only for its never before magnitude. That even members of the national cabinet can put on display a character that would better suit a mafia don is something that we are a sad witness to for the first time in the history of India as a free nation. That the two main national parties are almost equal rivals in the art of corruption is also a reality that has caught the imagination of the nation.

“Hamam mein sab nange hain” is what even newly born are heard uttering these days with almost amazing regularity.

I am reminded of the days when in the mid eighties we learnt through the media and political utterances that  India is great and then in the late nineties that the nation is shining. That the shine and the sheen always remained restricted to certain select members of the then ruling establishment was never in doubt. Yet the culpability of a senior member of the cabinet remained under covers till all hell broke loose when the issue of selling national silver at throwaway prices caught the attention of the masses. Disinvestment of certain prized yet undervalued public undertakings at prices one would laugh at had emerged as the primary focus of the establishment that had vested interests tucked away almost everywhere, almost akin to the present times.

Literally booted out I was, yet the priceless “Ashok” at Chanakyapuri lived and that one victory which made me almost a pariah for a few months till the issue was forgotten, has been my most cherished possession. I now fully appreciate after almost a decade of greying further that the fight that I then undertook was an offshoot of the anger every right minded citizen of the nation feels when the politicos or the bureaucrats usurp what belongs to all of us. Yes I was angry, extremely angry in the frustration that follows the inability of a protector to protect. That the establishment and the anti establishment had as always become silent partners in looting the nation is a trend that invariably continues to this day.

And we the common men rightly feel cheated when the guy we elected as the custodian turns out to be the crook. And the thought that India is only for men with power or men with money and not for the aam Hindustani gets ingrained deeper and deeper with time.

In hope we live. Insha Allah!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reforming Railways

There is absolutely no doubt that what we are staring at right now is a mess of an absolute order in the mammoth railway system of the nation, a mess that is also experienced with amazing regularity by the rank and file of the nation. Yet in the perception of a rank outsider the primary issue with the railways remains to be undue political interference by its own very minister.  Surprisingly this perception can at best be only marginally true.

It is a fact that the Indian Railways, a commercial (sic) organization in monopoly in a sellers market in an overpopulated nation has no justification to be in the state of affairs it is in right now. It is also a fact that despite its apparent negatives, the railways remains the most visible symbol of dynamic delivery in a nation where almost anything associated with the sarkari machinery is perceived as a symbol of sloth and inefficiency. In this backdrop, it is indeed a matter of concern that even a dream business scenario has failed in inspiring the railway system to strive for excellence and inadequate facilities and services in unhygienic and overcrowded stations and trains has over time emerged as its hallmark. This dichotomy in the environment and the performance apparently defies logic and needs to be appreciated before contemplating solutions.

Bashing of politicos has unfortunately emerged as the favorite pastime of the nation. Even the great Indian Railways has not been left unscathed in this regard, perhaps because this appears to be the easiest option that also appeals to the masses.  That the fundamental issues with the railways are an offshoot of its burgeoning bureaucracy that is heavy, complex, feudal and archaic yet well looked after has unfortunately remained under cover.

The separation of the rail budget from that of the general exchequer in 1924 had its genesis in the deep rooted philosophy of the then federal government that the operations of the railways being commercial in nature would flourish in a financial environment that is free of the controls normally inherent in government budgeting and expenditure systems. Notwithstanding this fine appreciation of commercial needs that the then powers to be displayed in abundance, considerable distortions in the last few decades have resulted in a total reversal of the entire scenario including the mindsets.  

Railways took root in India in 1853 and by 1947 it had extended to over 53500 kms, while the next sixty five years witnessed an addition of a mere 11000 kms despite advancements in technology and processes. At this juncture in the life of the railways, it is almost impossible to fathom that in a span of a mere twenty odd years that too almost a century and a half back, the entire golden quadrilateral was built. That all the five hill railways that are icons of engineering excellence could be built from scratch in around a decade each, around the turn of the nineteenth century also defies present day logic in times when even completion of petty works is regarded as a laudable achievement. The railways in the first hundred odd years were identified with rapid building of quality infrastructure and providing immaculate services to its clients. 

Where have we stalled?

In tune with the railway systems in the developed world where the railways arrived only marginally earlier our railway system was initially structured along departmental lines. While other railway systems changed/evolved with the passage of time, our railway system still continues with an archaic management and operational structure, the continuance of which defies commercial sense. Moreover the system has been considerably complicated and distorted to the extent that there is now a total mismatch between authority and accountability in all verticals at almost all levels. The situation is further aggravated by the presence of as many services as there are departments resulting in a scenario that the entire system has only departmental officers and not true railway officers. An overall view therefore almost never gets taken.

What needs to be done?

The absolute lack of clarity on whether railway is a commercial organization or a body like other ministries of the nation has always been a core concern. Logically however, its expenses being met by its own earnings convey an impression that railway is a commercial organization, an impression substantiated by the rising public expectations from its services. Unfortunately however its absolutely non commercial way of working has expectedly failed in living upto the expectations of the burgeoning middle class. Restoring commercial sense in its operations is necessary and merely having a commercial department is at best tokenism. This however would necessitate a concerted effort taken with clear short and long term perspectives in view.

In the short term, the ridiculous complexities and distortions in the decision making and contractual mechanisms would need to be addressed, besides putting in place a mechanism for a periodic rationalization of the fare structure that puts an end to the adhoc handling of fares. Simplification of procedures and empowerment of the almost disempowered functionaries at all levels is an obvious natural corollary.    

Concurrently long term measures that handle major structural and operational anamolies would need to be undertaken.

It is also true that the middle tier in the railways structure, the zonal headquarters have ceased to be of any positive relevance. Highly overstaffed with focus only on control and conformance, the headquarters offices should be the first bastion to be demolished in the interest of efficiency. For operational matters there needs to be one policy making body, a trim and efficient Railway Board and a single functional tier of divisional offices. The infrastructure and manpower vested in zonal offices at present can be put to better use.

We also need to pay an immediate heed to the oft recommended step of doing away with the plethora of services that presently exist and creating a single Indian Railway Service on the pattern of other services of the union.  The crying need to organize the entire structure on business lines after demolishing the present departmental structure would also need to be addressed. 

After ages we see light at the end of the tunnel, yet sunshine would engulf us only if we move forward.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The rise of the pygmies!

I find it difficult to overcome my penchant to focus on obvious faults in the railway system and therefore invariably veer around to the (non) working of its bureaucrats. I am now rather convinced that the fundamental issue with this great organization is its too many cadres and the heavy intake in each that ensures that none in our services has any substantive charge that he or she has full control over. This lack of power or authority is largely instrumental in the rise of the pygmies as they say it, within the organization.

Blokes from other services generally have authority from day one, authority that they may or may not use for the development or growth of the organization, but our kids are kept engaged right from day one in mundane matters, as mundane as finding their feet within the organization. The only authority that the organization confers on them is that of punishing and ridiculing their subordinates and also their clients, an act that they become adept at rather fast and practice throughout their (non) working career, exceptions apart of course.

This thirst to be seen as one with power and pelf leads to distortions within the organization as can be seen in the autocratic style of functioning of almost all those who occupy general management positions with utter disregard for the fact that these positions would serve better if the occupier had leadership qualities rather than sadistic tendencies. A cultural shift is the crying need of the hour.

The solution perhaps lies in implementing the various committee reports that suggested having only one cadre for the railways, with simultaneous reduction in the intake. After all, induction into the services should not be done with the sole aim of providing employment opportunities and perpetuating the status quo.

With almost everyone being a departmental officer with a limited vision, the next obvious question would be who shall do it. Obviously it has to be none other than the top guy. Merger of the services is the biggest issue with the widest ramifications and therefore should be the utmost concern of the big boss. Perhaps being busy in the mundane is not leaving the upper crust with the time or energy for visionary thinking. The upper crust has to comprise of visionaries who lead the organization especially at times like the present.

If only wishes were horses!