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Thursday, June 18, 2015

The mind plays games and we play along!

The fine line keeps on getting blurred often.

I always believed that good and bad are like black and white, distinct and apart, but life keeps on attempting to teach otherwise. It teaches that good and bad are separated by a fine line that often keeps on getting blurred.

Is all that is on the side of the powerful, superior or the wealthy, good and all that is not, otherwise? Is there not an absolute definition of good or bad? Are we to go by the general perception of the public based on what they follow or practice or is the voice of conscience the better and the ultimate arbiter in the tussle between the good and the bad?

Is the system superior to the objective? Again a question that has no straight answers; a question that all those in the service of the sarkar keep on grappling with almost always. If the system comes in the way of achieving the objective, what are we supposed to do with it, still follow it or give it the go by. What we do, then actually defines what is superior and more often than not, it would be the system not the objective.

Then how the hell the country is expected to make progress in the true sense is what I always wonder. And the very fact that most of us either do not care or do not appreciate this basic premise is what exasperates me.

The tremendous energy that all of us have, gets dissipated without making the contribution it should, to the society at large. And that is tragic.

Remaining busy shuffling papers is not how I view my life should be. Paperwork is meant to merely a mechanism of making things happen, not an end by itself. And therefore it pains me when papers are merely shuffled around and we remain engrossed in a maze of files, meetings and discussions while organizations and the nation stands still.

Injustice and lack of basic concern for humanity is also what pains me. Is life deigned to be like this as ordained by the almighty, or what we generally witness is the aberration? What is the purpose and what is the grand design of the lord in creating the human life, life that appears to me to be the epitome of imperfection.

These and many other questions bother me, more so because there are no real answers to them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The lifeline chugs along!

The economic lifeline of the nation, the Indian Railways is a great organization. For almost over a hundred and sixty years it has been carrying the bulk of the passengers and freight of the nation and thereby emerged as an acknowledged symbol of growth, delivery and consistency in a nation that has often been witness to inadequate performance by various public utilities.

Railways indeed has a glorious history. In the initial decades its inception, it grew at a phenomenal pace, pace that is incomprehensible even in the present age of technology and managerial systems. Connecting the golden quadrilateral in less than twenty five and completing each of the hill railways in two to three years are achievements of tremendous stature even now, Such were and perhaps are the capabilities of this great organization. The very fact that the national railways moves over a thousand million tonnes of freight a year and passengers almost equal to the population of Australia every day, displays its inherent strength, commitment, focus on delivery and resilience.

Yet despite operating in a monopolistic situation in a huge sellers market, this great organization finds itself at the receiving end with amazing regularity. The huge ever increasing gap between demand and supply shows a massive lost opportunity that despite being in the best possible business scenario is neither fathomable, nor appreciable. Any business enterprise, and perhaps the railways is also one of them, would encash such a dream scenario to its fullest, in the interest of the organization and also people at large.

And that leads one to wonder, what has really gone wrong along the way? Why an almost vertical growth that businesses generally achieve in a scenario of monopoly and sellers market is not coming our way? Another thing that worries all those who love this monolith is the general situation of drift and helplessness prevailing even at the senior management levels. Apparently an overdose of rules, procedures and processes that has no doubt helped this organization run despite what may, has also been the major cause behind its rank inability to widen our horizons and progress in tune with the needs of a rapidly emerging nation.

Why this grand failure to succeed even in the best possible business scenario, is what really bothers me and perhaps not seeing a silver lining bothers me further?

Yet, the very fact that reforms, both structural and procedural are now on the anvil gives cause for solace. And the new minister like a whiff of fresh air has provided a ray of hope for this monolith mired in red tape. The setting up of a committee, headed by the eminent Mr. Debroy, mandated with the charge of recommending structural and process reforms is also a move in the right direction. Yet keeping in view the enormity of the issues involved and past experiences, hopes shall continue to remain at a low ebb till such time actual changes, not merely intentions, emerge at the ground level.

While railways is still regarded as a symbol of delivery, there is ample scope for improvement all around. A visit to a public institution or a city or a town, with rare exceptions ofcourse lays bare our rank failure in exploiting the potential that exists.

            Why is it so? Why is it that in our country, the word “public” in a public institution or a program often conveys an image of “sloth”, “inefficiency” or “corruption”. How is it that ownership by the most powerful institutions in the country, the governments, is more often than not regarded as a negative, even though ideally it should be otherwise? Where have we gone wrong, where have we slipped, are points to ponder?

            I like almost everyone else grew up with a popular belief that in a democratic system, the government is of the people, for the people and by the people. This belief evaporated with passage of time and more so during my service with the group of ruling elite in various capacities, cutting across sectors and states. Almost always, the tantra has been busy, serving itself or otherwise, without much concern about delivery and this to me appears to be the main reason why the nation even after almost seven decades of self rule continues to remain almost at the bottom of the list of nations in many development related indices.

            Sadly performance rarely matters within the system and the definition of merit also often appears warped. Yes there are exceptional bureaucrats and politicians, but they are far and few and can be counted on fingertips with a couple of fingers to spare. The tantra being perpetually blamed for the ills of governance even by its constituents who do not appreciate that it is they who make up the system, is indeed a hilarious scenario. 

            So what went wrong along the way? Perhaps we were not mature enough for self rule when we had our tryst with destiny, or the economic model forged in earlier years was not the right way or perhaps we never changed with the times while the world did and allowed archaic structures and processes get the better of us. 

            The national penchant for process rather than delivery is in my opinion the biggest hurdle in our march towards progress. That the sum total of goods and services produced in the country is the sole deciding factor on whether we are a rich or a poor nation has not yet sunk in into the national psyche. And therefore almost everywhere we have a fleet of pen pushers who fail to look beyond the file, for whom, not delivery but the file remains the ultimate objective. Yet these pen pushers share only a minor portion of the blame for the national debacle. Our archaic structures and processes, commonly known as the system remains the main culprit. This system marked by its ridiculous complexities also works as a highly efficient shield for the shirkers, inefficient and the corrupt – both of the financial and professional variety.

            This lack of concern for deliverance is so firmly enshrined in the minds of those who form the bulk of the servants of the government that almost everyone believes taking organizations or nations forward is the job of someone else. This general perception needs to change and that is possible only by changing structures and processes so radically that responsibility for all acts of omission or commission starts getting affixed, without the shroud that was available earlier.

            Simplification of structures and processes is the need of the hour. Our decision making and contractual processes that are presently mired in mistrust need to be simplified so that they become efficient and whenever required, direct accountability can be affixed.

            And we need to look at the human resource – for one witnesses that remaining engrossed in the maze of great dreams, lofty ideals and lofty budgets yet remaining totally oblivious of the most precious resource of all times – the human resource is not going to take us anywhere. Genuine concern for men and genuine efforts towards their development and growth is one singular thing that would propel organizations and nations forward. “Kundalini Jagran” is basically a hindu concept, but to some extent meets with my ingrained beliefs. All of us possess tremendous latent potential, yet remain blissfully unaware of it throughout our lives. Every single one of us is capable of superhuman achievements without getting physically tired, if the environment is positive, vibrant and encouraging.

            And the rampant corruption, often hidden under the table hurts. Yet officially its presence is never accepted for want of a habit to tackle inconvenient. Also absent are value systems and ethics in the entire governance machinery. In my over thirty five years of service, I am yet to attend a meeting called by my superior wherein issues relating to integrity, ethics or value systems are discussed and this inability of ours to bring these issues out in the open is the root cause behind the downfall in moral values within the governance machinery. Yet it is possible to correct things – despite the extent to which the rot has set in, if only one starts.

            My personal experiences in the railways, federal and state governments and national and state run public sector undertakings has left me convinced that a turnaround is possible, that it is still possible to bring about major changes for the better provided we believe in the need for deliverance, the latent potential of the human resource and the crying need to inject ethics and value systems in the entire governance machinery.

            It is never too late to wake up…………………….

Random musings

The chasm between field and head offices is an ever widening one. Those in the field always have a grouse against those comfortably settled in apex offices and wonder why the field realities remain invisible to these guys who really matter. And the very same guy on being kicked upwards to apex offices conveniently avoids the ground realities in favour of his warped perceptions and continues to be regarded in the same league as he regarded those above him, earlier. The relay continues with a lot of unhappy people emerging all around.

I have always wondered why field postings are meant for relatively junior and the headquarter postings for those born much earlier. Perhaps it is the general perception that wiser people should inhabit the superior offices and the not so wise, the lowly ones. This, despite the fact that it is predominantly the work at the field level that decides the fate of organizations whether they move forward or stay where they are.

On the other hand, the work of the superior offices is to provide vision and direction besides facilitating the working of their subordinate units, activities that they rarely indulge into. Unfortunately they end up attempting to monitor what the field units are doing, without generally providing any value addition whatsoever and therefore are regarded more as an evil that one has to live with than an office one usually looks up to.

Why shouldn’t then field offices have a status much higher than the head offices? And postings then should also follow this logic with sheer competence, not rank in the hierarchical set up deciding where exactly the bureaucratic bloke should park his backside upon.  Seniority then should not really matter and even the seniormost bloke, if competent should be parked in an assignment where his capabilities and talent can be best utilized. On the other hand even a junior official if perceived to have vision can be positioned in assignments in head offices where providing vision and direction is the major concern.

After all positions within bureaucratic setups should be positions of authority and responsibility, not merely positions of power and the aim has to be delivery, not merely positioning of men in hierarchical assignments.

Railways is a classic example of an organization where the field formations are generally treated with contempt by superior offices that themselves repeatedly on many occasions prove their irrelevance. Yet there is a race for superior yet irrelevant positions for the field is regarded as inferior to setups ensconced in ivory towers.

When shall we wake up to the reality that positions that impart power and authority are merely roles that one plays and each role has its own relevance? Regarding one role as superior to the other is a folly that most of us commit. After all real progress can only be achieved by a confluence of roles, all working in tandem with each other.