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Thursday, July 31, 2014

A phenomenon called Arnab

Arnab Goswami is a recent yet a very powerful phenomenon that fortunately is good for the nation. The nine pm Times Now debates have now emerged as a must in the daily schedule of every educated middle class Indian. That the debates are contemporary is what adds to their irresistible attraction that almost everyone finds it difficult to put aside. A crystal clear elucidation of the issue and absolute clarity of the subject is what enables Arnab never to stumble or bumble, activities reserved for those panellists who do not carry conviction over what emerges from their lips.

That Arnab is very well prepared is beyond doubt. That he is committed to the cause of the nation is fairly evident. And that he possesses the courage of the tiger is not hidden from anyone. And his overall pleasing personality is like the icing on the cake.

Overall I am floored and also satisfied for here is one Indian who does not beat about the bush and is fearless in calling a spade a spade even when the spade belongs to the ruling dispensation. Solid inner courage is what really makes the difference between those who build nations and those who do not. Mahatma Gandhi was one whose courage was exemplary, whose commitment to the cause was unflinching and who was always on the side of the truth regardless of the consequences and this is what led him to victory over the might of the british empire.

Many regard Arnab as arrogant. Yes he is, but his arrogance is based on his inner courage, integrity and conviction and not merely a false sense of ego and pride. I wish the members of the bureaucracy and the political classes cutting across party lines had a similar brand of arrogance for then the nation would already have arrived in the real sense.  

This biggest contribution of these debates is that they have started instilling a sense of fear amongst the powerful wrongdoers who so far had none to dissect their acts. The voracious tearing apart of the arguments blatantly favoring the wrongdoers would, if continued in the same spirit bring the fear of god in the minds of every powerful aadmi from the ruling classes on the wrong side of law or humanity.

The new dispensation at the centre is from a party with a difference. With the inglorious decade of corruption and sloth behind us, the nation now eagerly looks forward to clean and efficient governance, an absence of scams, growth and development, swift justice and premium on merit. Perhaps all these would adorn the nation in the near future and the emergence of issues that are at the core of the debates would witness a rapid decline. Yet till such time it happens I am going to relish the grilling of wrongdoers at the hands of the phenomenon called Arnab.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wise and Gutsy after hanging the boots!

Katju, a person of great eminence was on the backfoot in the Times Now debate yesterday. Despite performing a commendable job in highlighting the impropriety committed in granting extension to a tainted high court judge of the Chennai court, the other two panelists were successful in pulling him down over the issue of his remaining mum, both while he was in active assignment and also for the over two years that elapsed since he hung up his boots.

His defense that he could not have gone beyond a point in expressing his resentment over the grave impropriety being committed right under his nose by the supreme authorities of the land obviously does not cut much ice. That his hands were tied by the compulsions of being an active judge and therefore not able to resist the mischievous actions of those in power is an argument that we often hear, especially from the bureaucrats who on similar lines grow wise and gutsy after retirement.

Is this, the conventional approach of being silent partners in crime the right course of action I wonder? Is permitting without a whimper, gross cases of misconduct under the garb of remaining within the ambit of the conduct rules applicable to government servants, the ethical way of doing things?

The answer is NO, yet almost all of us with exceptions of the likes of Khemka, Khairnar or Kiran, all with first names starting with the letter K, find it the most convenient and justifiable action that despite the voice of conscience saying otherwise, we absolve ourselves with throughout our lives. Incidentally Katju also belongs to the same variety and that makes me reverent of the alphabet K. 

Silent partners in crime with allegiance to powerful individuals and not to the government or the nation, is what almost all of us in the service of the government have emerged as. Rampant corruption and injustice therefore flourishes right under our noses and we tend to look elsewhere till at times we take a direct hit.

Is it not our duty to be truthful, honest and compassionate and at the same time put our foot down when someone else howsoever powerful he may be fleeces the nation by his misdemeanors. While our conscience that is an integral part of the almighty winces at all such acts, our intellect tempered by the everyday happenings of the society guides us otherwise in the garb of being practical for fear of retribution that may or may not come in the shape of a transfer or a spoiled confidential report. Is it not therefore a case of paying a very high price for avoiding a minor inconvenience?

This lack spine at crucial moments in our service career provides the wherewithal to powerful individuals to carry on with their acts of gross misconduct while at the same time remaining on the right side of the conduct rules framed for the servants of the government. This is the greatest irony of the so called service of the nation.

Any system or structure that regards an expose’ as a much bigger crime than the criminal deed itself would never be able to propel the nation to the league of developed countries. Any organization where the frank and free expression of its constituents is regarded as dissent worthy of grave retribution is bound to wither away with time. The functioning of organizations and states has to have its foundations on pillars of justice, justice that meets the voice of conscience not merely some rules and procedures written in books. Unless this realization dawns on the mandarins of the republic, we would forever remain occupied in a futile search for growth and development. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Trivialities take the lead!

Trivialities should always remain what they intrinsically are, yet their very penchant to occupy centre stage in the sarkari way of working can neither be overlooked nor appreciated. They invariably continue to remain at the core of all that happens or does not happen within the sarkari tantra.

The most common example of trivialities overtaking the core issue is amply on display during functions relating to laying of foundation stone or inaugural ceremonies. On such occasions, the sitting arrangements, presentation of floral bouquets and unnecessary protocol effectively shrouds the primary reason behind the ceremony.

Even during the course of official working one often realizes that issues other than work play the major role in shaping careers. Concern for the boss and taking care of his needs and also that of the spouse is universally recognized far more important that the sheer act of delivery itself. Even during informal gatherings in club premises, kowtowing to superiors and their better halves is blatantly visible for that is a sure shot way of rising, if one calls it rise, within the organization.  Possessing or putting on display even a semblance of self-respect is almost fatal in bureaucratic circles, a lesson learnt fairly early in life by the bureaucrat of today.

So shorn of self-esteem many of us are that even a difference of opinion by someone lower down in the hierarchy is viewed as dissent, while at the same time even blatant abuse by superiors is taken as manna from the heavens. And in the process major issues that should normally be dissected threadbare and discussed, move as per the whims, fancy and understanding of the top honcho chairing the meeting ceremony.

Unfortunate it is that plain and simple work has become a ceremony in the sarkari sector where massaging the ego’s of those who matter occupies a much higher pedestal than delivery itself. This work culture needs to be shown the door and hopefully the new government would do so. After all a spade would continue to remain a spade regardless of what it is regarded as by those drunk on power.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The injustice of the Juvenile Justice Act

Maneka Gandhi’s statement on juvenile justice and her resolve to bring to book juveniles who rape and murder is indeed music to the ears. I fully endorse the view that a so called kid who is into premeditated rapes and murders can by no stretch of imagination classify as a kid worthy of much reduced punishment. A rape is a rape and a murder is a murder regardless of the age of the person committing it and the perpetrator does not deserve any leniency whatsoever.

India is also home to a plethora of armchair enthusiasts who carry a view on almost all issues under the sun. It is these armchair enthusiasts who so far have been highly vocal against attempts to bring about suitable modifications in the juvenile justice act. I wonder what would be the response of the most vocal armchair enthusiast is his own daughter undergoes a fate akin to Nirbhaya, yet I am reasonably certain that his views would be taking a hundred eighty degree turn.

The Nirbhaya incident of the 16th of December 2012 shook the collective conscience of the nation. Never before in the history of the republic the citizens emerged from the comfortable confines of their homes on the roads of the capital to protest against the incident. Yet justice is still awaited in this case and with the exception of the guy who committed suicide, the others are still cooling their heels and forever devising ways to delay the noose. The noose however would never await the one who was the most brutal of the lot, for the mere reason that he is a juvenile and therefore classifies for leniency under the juvenile justice act. What a travesty of Justice!

I abhor the double standards that we citizens generally tend to practice. The noose if our own kith and kin is involved and mercy or a total lack of concern if someone else is. I have always admired  instant justice the sunny deol style as witnessed in films and unless the same is implemented in real life scenario, innocents and the weak would continue to suffer.  

Spurred by the cover the act provides, juveniles have also become the favourite actors in cases of terrorism and organized crime. The act has already provided sufficient motivation to crime syndicates to bank on youngsters for their operations in India. During my stint as the head honcho of Delhi division of the railways the biggest headache was the nuisance and crime committed by the below eighteen group at almost all stations and yet we could not do anything in the matter.

For the sake of the society and also for the sake of my family I sincerely hope and pray that Maneka Gandhi does not fail in her efforts. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What ails Indian tourism?

Tourism along with railways has always been a key focus area of the new prime minister even before he became one and it is now time that these sectors are actually harnessed for the national good. Unfortunately tourism, an activity of the masses has always been looked upon with an elitist undertone and therefore the sector rarely got the attention and the priority it rightfully deserved despite its unmatched multiplier effect and capacity for generating employment.
There has always been an ongoing debate over whether tourism is a state or a federal subject and voices to bring it on the concurrent list were always getting raised. Yet the fact remains that merely being on a list is not a guarantor of growth or development and what really matters are intentions and also the efforts to convert them into reality. During my earlier roller coaster stint in the federal ministry of tourism I always wondered whether merely putting Agra, the home of the Tajmahal in order should not be the starting point for setting right the entire gamut of tourism in the nation. Yet it was never to be as we always aspired to do something big while failing in achieving the small. 
Another issue that has always been on the top of my mind is whether the primary role of the tourism departments at the federal and state levels is tourism for the mandarins or tourism for the masses. For masses obviously it has to be, yet the tours beyond the confines of the shores have continued unabated, cutting across states and shades of governance. Our focus definitely needs to shift from beyond the shores to setting our own house in order and then zoom forward.
It is not merely about how many visitors we receive from beyond the shores. Tourism to my mind is more about enabling our countrymen to explore the richness of their own country, something that gets shrouded by the glimmer of what is regarded and worshipped as foreign stuff.
It is also of essence that the national perspective on tourism does not remain confined merely to figures both of foreign tourist arrivals and the home population moving within the country. Unfortunately the national mind-set is guided and also led by statistics, and therein lies the malaise. Even while remaining confined to statistics, the essential difference between the tourist, who is basically an explorer, and the traveller, who may be moving for many reasons needs to be   appreciated, though both form part of the tourism statistics that are regularly being churned out and touted by those who matter in the matter of tourism in the country.
Another fallacy is related to international advertising. Our sheer inability to appreciate that the bottleneck in so far as foreign tourist arrivals is concerned is not the inability to showcase but the  number of seats in the aircrafts plying between the homeland and the rest of the world. It is time to realize that advertising is not merely for increasing the numbers but also for improving the image perception and creating the desire to visit and it therefore has to be primarily driven by the Indian ethos, culture and achievements and not merely the numbers game.
And it is also about infrastructure. The much-needed basic tourist infrastructure is a dire necessity and merely releasing grants to the State Governments who permit only a trickle to reach the ground is not making the difference it actually should. The release of funds alone is an inadequate measure unless it results in an actual conversion and in its absence a pat on the back is not really in order. The emergence of a good monitoring and executing machinery is the desperate need of the hour.
The India Tourism Development Corporation is indeed the sad story of Indian tourism. An inherently profitable commercial organization also entrusted with the national mandate of development of tourism has been brought to seed by inept leadership provided by high ranking bureaucrats. Is it not really unfortunate that along with Air India, ITDC is also now regarded as the national symbol of sloth, inefficiency and corruption? Both these commercial monoliths could have given a tremendous push to the cause of tourism as well as travel within the country, something they did till professionalism remained at the core of their operations. Yet both can turnaround provided………
It is beyond doubt that tourism as an activity almost always happens on its own, without prodding from the governments, and that it helps local economies to grow at a pace much higher than in other sectors. Its employment potential as well as impact on economy many times over the investment in the sector have already received adequate national hype and now it warrants real inputs not merely rhetoric  from the governments. 
It is now time that the handling of tourism moves beyond the established clich├ęs and it actually starts  driving local economies, besides giving a thrust to the re-emergence and positioning of ancient Indian heritage, art, culture and thought. It would indeed be futile to look at tourism without looking at all that the country stands for. The sectors encompassing tourism and culture are complimentary and a much higher natural synergy will now perhaps be achieved after the merger of the two ministries.
The role of the Government of India Tourist Offices, popularly known as GOITO’s that earlier formed the backbone of the national effort to give a thrust to tourism need a much deeper understanding and appreciation. Merely finding faults without suitably empowering them to function efficiently in a fast changing international scenario is causing more damage than good. Perhaps an injection of fundamentals of administration and management is the need of the hour. It is also necessary that the unfortunate state of affairs in which these offices and the men who man them stand castigated should cease once and for all. 
Lack of cleanliness and hygiene is also a bane of the tourism sector in the nation. Perhaps it is an issue related to the mind-set that is prevalent, yet there is no alternative to maintaining in a state of utmost cleanliness both our tourist destinations as well as places of human habitat in general. The recent clean india campaign marked a good beginning, yet the effort has lost steam midway or so it appears.
And make it easy for the private sector to invest. That the number of hotel rooms in the organized sector is far lower than that in the city state of Singapore indeed says it all. A multi-pronged strategy focussed on cleanliness, private sector participation, infrastructure development, promotional advertising and tourist facilitation would make all the difference in proper positioning of the country as a tourist friendly nation in its own national interest, is indeed the need of the hour.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Railway Reforms - Article published in TOI of 1st July 2014

Jul 01 2014 : The Times of India (Delhi)
INSIDE VIEW- Railways in decline, it's time for overhaul

That Railways, the great monolith often christened as the economic lifeline of the nation, is in for a major overhaul is both sad as well as gratifying. After all, even the most modern machines require periodic overhauls and therefore why not organizations?
Actually , the Railways are in crying need for an overhaul.
The recent spate of accidents and the general public perception of an organization that still delivers where many others fail to, albeit not up to the satisfaction of customers, is the sad story of the Railways.It's an organization that carries over 20 million passengers a day and over thousand million tonnes of freight a year. But, it has almost reached its limits in its present shape and structure. And that's where the nub lies. There's no longer time to beat about the bush -rather it's time to call a spade a spade.
An archaic, feudal and sycophantic organization steeped in complex processes cannot be expected to meet the expectations of 21st century India.
Its three-tier structure on departmental lines, with a redundant tier in the middle, with its cadres aligned on similar lines is the real issue that is preventing a monopoly commercial organization from meeting the country's aspirations.
At one level, the well-researched reports made by persons of eminence -Prakash Tandon, Rakesh Mohan and Kakodkar need to be acted upon. At another level, the organizational structure needs to be shaken.
The famous Railgate scandal that surfaced and shook the nation almost a year ago failed to make any dent in the collective psyche of the organization. What emerged was just one symptom of a flourishing malaise, but the disease continues to grow unchecked.
How can an organization, often considered the epitome of corrupt practices, meet the needs of a rapidly emerging nation?
Leadership or the lack of it has been a key issue with this gigantic organization. Vision has been the biggest casualty .
The departmental structure is the underlying reason behind this as it has created satraps, each with their own jagir. This has created a situation where almost everyone always has a perfectly valid reason for not delivering.
The arrival of a new government has signalled chang ing times and hope, both in the hearts of the common man and the honest bureaucrat.
Hopefully , the reasons behind the Railways performing below par and also regularly failing to meet the expectations of a nation on the move would now find suitable redressal.
Look at history . It took less than 25 years for the quadrilateral connecting the four metros to be built, and each hill railways took less than a decade to be commissioned. And, this happened in an era when both technology and transportation were primitive. That 80% of the route we have at present was built in the first 94 years with 20% taking the next 67 years says it all.
The solution lies in simplifying the maze of complex rules, procedures and processes that this monolith is mired in, spurred primarily by a feeling of mistrust that pervades like mist. The answer lies in restructuring and trimming the huge bureaucracy that complicates this organization each passing day .
Increasing route kilometres by quadrupling the golden quadrilateral to begin with, creating the much-needed new passenger and freight terminals and ushering in an era of real high-speed travel, among other goals, would necessitate a radically different approach that is beyond the capabilities of the existing structure.
Basic improvements, therefore, would need to be followed up by measures that usher in a true corporate culture. The nation cannot be held to ransom by an organization that underperforms in a target-driven business scenario.