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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Frightening Railways!

The existing state of affairs in the railways frightens me.

That the major issues of any large organization should always remain on the radar of the top management is a philosophy that is being defied with impunity in the organization. What is also being defied are the well established roles defined for the board, headquarters and divisional offices with almost everyone jumping on the bandwagon to perform mundane jobs. Mundane jobs because perhaps they come naturally even to those in the hierarchy who are meant to impart vision and a sense of direction to the organization.

It saddens me to witness that the use of intemperate language in meetings, discussions, file notings and official communications is on the ascension. Frayed tempers, high decibels and use of abusive language, traits that are identified with family owned under performing business houses have started emerging as a hallmark in the functioning of the railway bureaucracy. A grand spectacle of one up man ship based on belittling others is on display almost always in the ministry and headquarters offices. That the working of a commercial organization that is in monopoly in a massive sellers market can be unpleasant to the core is a reality that can be experienced only within the confines of the railways.    

It defies logic that after almost a hundred and sixty years of existence, we still lack clarity on the type of organization we are. We swing alternately from being a department of the government to a commercial setup and end up being neither. Our performance therefore takes a direct hit as we have perhaps emerged as one of the finest examples of a commercial setup defying the established practices and systems that should be the building blocks of any setup that identifies itself with commercial activities.

The smooth rise of mediocrity up the hierarchial ladder is a cause of discomfiture for all those, and there are still many of the kind, who have the welfare of the organization as their sole concern. Yet the state of affairs is likely to continue as long as pygmies continue to hold sway in this organization that till recently had a great prefixed to its name. How times change, for the worse?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No right to differ!

A worrying trend being recently witnessed across the nation is the inability of the powers that matter to accept that other human beings can have an opinion that is different from theirs and also perhaps that of the establishment. The very recent incident of arrests of two girls at Mumbai, merely for voicing an opinion at variance with the sentiments that flowed and the arrests of cartoonists for drawing caricatures found unacceptable by powerful people are pointers to the widespread surfacing of intolerance even amongst those from whom tolerance is generally expected as a mandatory virtue.

The leaders of yesteryears were towering and also witty personalities who would have borne the sarcasm or a differing viewpoint in such harmless exercises if any, in their stride. Even Nehru, the tallest statesman that this nation has produced was often the butt of many caricatures and satires, but never did he lose his cool or express his annoyance in retaliation. Well that is what differentiates a true leader from the rest, yet our major issues being societal in nature, the “rest” alone cannot be held fully accountable for the torrid state of affairs. 

With bureaucrats it is different. The petty ego that they have been preserving since the beginning of their careers with care flares up at the slightest pretext and a difference of opinion by a subordinate is definitely a major pretext to get annoyed. Fortunately however, while the bureaucrats can create a scene or at best spoil confidential reports and the career of those subservient to them, the politico can manage violence and arrests as recently witnessed. One attempts what he is capable of and there is definitely no case for a moral superiority of one over the other. 

Ego is at the core of the issue. “The bigger the ego, the weaker the performance” is a true saying yet never appreciated in the real sense or perhaps the priorities are more practically poised. It is indeed the misfortune of the nation that for the majority of the politicos and bureaucrats, “ego” is their sole prized possession and hence the passionate struggle for its preservation at the cost of the nation. Petty ego of the powers that matter has with passage of time emerged as the hallmark of developing and underdeveloped nations to their detriment. 

Perhaps it has much to do with being in the league of developing nations even after over sixty five years of existence as a free nation. The inability to make a difference in a system designed to rule and control leads to a loss of pride and self esteem and what better way to restore it, other than by belittling others. And so we have seniors who are unable to accept even minor differences of opinion with the masses that they ostensibly represent and the fleet of bureaucrats literally following in their footsteps.

We as a society need to grow up in the real sense. That the seats of power are a tool to serve the society and the nation and not merely means of self aggrandizement needs appreciation. And regarding a different set of opinion as a sign of dissent is definitely not in tune with the democratic principles of governance.  Moreover the hunger for power merely for raising ones stature and means of sustenance is also not a quality that one looks forward to from those who are meant to govern, not rule the nation.

Good governance is the crying need of the hour and it is indeed sad that it appears to be a utopian concept in the present times.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A runaway train!

Mail Today carried a report in today’s newspaper on the extravagant expenditure proposal of the railways to purchase train sets at costs almost ten times that of modern high speed trains recently introduced on the Indian railway network. Twenty train sets costing over Rs 550 crores each are slated for purchase in an attempt to inject an element of modernity to the railway network.

Going in for a train set costing over Rs 550 crores as against a formed german design train costing Rs 50 crores with no attendant advantages other than perhaps a better photo op for the travellers can at best be called foolish, unless of course there are pressing reasons that are not so apparent.

It is also unfortunate that mere injection of new technology is regarded as modernization in the railway system. New technology has to be synchronized with changes in contractual and decision making processes and also training and recruitment systems for the staff who have to deal with it. It is indeed sad that even an organization like the COFMOW, the avowed aim of which was modernization of workshops confined their role to that of a machine procurer, without any appreciation of what modernization is all about. The trend continues till today and half baked modernization efforts are continuing with impunity in almost all departments of the railways. 

IT for the sake of IT has also created much havoc within the confines of the railway machinery. In the garb of a semblance of IT, manual systems are continuing in parallel almost everywhere thereby denying the advantages that are inherent if IT is implemented in true letter and spirit. 

Perhaps these are symptoms of an organization gone astray or a runaway train clueless about its next port of call.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Crumbling Verticals!

The battle for supremacy amongst various services of the railways witnesses new lows with each passing day. That such battles have no relevance for the well being of the organization or otherwise is fairly evident, yet issues and projects are regularly conceived and launched for petty personal as well as departmental gains.  Often the gains though not for the organization are immense as appears to be the case with new found penchant for train sets to be procured at costs, considered exorbitant by even western standards. Now for some time there shall be territorial disputes between those who espouse the cause of train sets for personal as well as departmental gains and those whose territory appears to be shrinking. The saga of growth and development of the railway system in our nation is heavily interspersed with such internal battles regularly played on different turfs by different groups, generally for unethical causes or causes beyond comprehension.

The nine verticals of the railways are the bane of this organization that once had a great affixed to its name. Till the railways crossed the two hundred million mark in the early eighties, the departmental verticals suited the organization, perhaps because of the easily manageable load both in terms of freight as well as the passenger traffic. During the following three decades, the load went up by almost six times, without any substantial inputs in terms of infrastructure or the human resource. This led to the ongoing mad scramble for scarce resources with attendant ramifications. Simultaneously the rapid rise in the number of officers led to diminishing of powers, authority and territory with consequent reduction in self esteem and pride. Lack of self esteem and pride in oneself is the reason behind the undignified conduct of the officer class in general in dealing with their subordinates that one is witness to day in and day out. Another glaring symptom is the crumbling infrastructure and the pride that once was the hallmark of a railwaymen.  

A vicious bind is what we find ourselves in now. The archaic structure throws up mediocrity for whom even the thought of structural or systemic changes is beyond comprehension. The mediocrity at apex levels taking solace in the routine day to day operations is the culprit behind the mess we find ourselves in at present.

Abhimanyu broke the chakravyuh of the kauravas during Mahabharata. A modern day Abhimanyu will lead this organization out of the morass that it finds itself in despite being in monopoly in a sellers market.

With hope we live!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Changing Governments, Static Governance

The recent episode (s) involving gadkari of the major opposition party has come as a blow to the aam aadmi of this nation. His disenchantment with the sarkar of the day always had a release valve in his ability to bring in a new government by exercising his power of vote but this one incident has blasted the faint flame of hope that he always kept tucked away deep in his heart. In all fairness, this incident is unfair to the aam aadmi who feels duped.

The recent series of scams beginning with the CWG have shaken the polity of this nation to its core. Never before in the history of an independent India have levels of probity in public life touched lows recently witnessed, and never before has the nation witnessed the brazenness of the ruling dispensation in handling such ignominious acts. Yet despite the new set of standards that have been set, the act of rewarding a mantri who duped the handicapped and then issued extinction threats is beyond the acceptance of a sane society. This sole incident may have been the pivot around which the government would have exited, but for the gadkari incident.

Who does the electorate turn to when it is an open warfare, a no holds barred war between two gangs of politicians both of which have their hand firmly in the till? Indeed the predicament of the aam aadmi is pitiable for he installs a government, gets disenchanted, changes the government and gets disenchanted again. The aam aadmi now appreciates that irrespective of the shades of the party in power, governance remains as rotten as always. The cutting edge functionaries of the tantra remain as corrupt as they always were, infrastructure continues to be in tatters and inflation is always on the rise. Yet the only difference in the shades of governance remains in the quantum of corruption indulged in by those elected to power, it varies from a few crores to a few thousand crores to lakhs of crores as witnessed in the recent past. Yet thieves are thieves and one who stole less can by no stretch of imagination claim moral superiority over his brethren.

The politicos and bureaucrats continue to have a hey day, the media remains busy lapping up and selling juicy stories and the aam aadmi continues to suffer, yet silently awaits his opportunity to plunder and loot.