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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Harnessing the potential

A bold intent has been displayed by the government in announcing the massive widespread disinvestment of public sector enterprises. Yes the government is bang on, the true potential of these enterprises can be harnessed only by privatization.

The true objective is to harness the potential and privatization is apparently the means to an end. Exploiting the full potential would give a great boost to the nation’s economy and ultimately the standard of living would go up.

Where have we faltered and we in this case is the sarkari tantra that controlled, guided, gave shape and to top it all laid down the ground rules and the boundaries for these enterprises to perform.

Why these enterprises have not been able to perform as well under public ownership and sarkari management as they would under the ownership of a member of the public and management by individuals picked up based on merits.

Yet the fact remains that organizations that performed miserably while in government control blossomed with a change of ownership. I remember a doyen of the private sector keen on acquiring the national carrier telling us that he would give results without changing even a single employee as he did in all the units that he acquired earlier. He rightly put his finger on the incapability or perhaps the inability of the managements placed by the governments; to manage well.

And it is so true. Both inability due to constrained processes and gross mismatch between authority and accountability and incapability for the process to appoint heads of businesses that the enterprises actually are leaves much to be desired.

There are only a few pain points but they impart all the pain. The foremost is the tendering system that is indeed the bane of the nation and has proven almost impossible to handle. This process that takes the scalps of many invariably has in the long run proven to be more important than the end result itself, that of entering into the contract for supply or execution of goods, services or projects. The tendering system needs to be simplified and not cast in stone for in my view a process cannot be given a place higher than the objective for which the process was actually put in place.

Rank mistrust at all levels and the glorification of agencies that merely find faults in hindsight or counsel others on how they should be doing their jobs has caused damage deeper that what is apparent at first sight. A deviation from the written word even for attaining the higher good has almost been criminalized and the fine distinction between a mistake and a malafide has been thoroughly blurred. As a result while corruption could not be checked, initiative has got subdued nice and proper.

And there is a glaring absence of incentive and premium on deliverance. People who deliver should not be fearful and fear if any should be openly dispelled. The supremacy of deliverance if established can  place the public sector at par with the private for after all it is actually the same Indian guy who is manning positions in the entire public and private sectors regardless of the shades of ownership. In one he is encouraged to deliver while in the other he is afraid to go the extra mile that deliverance warrants.

While to me it appears possible, perhaps it may not be easy to change the working environment in the public sector and disinvestment has rightly emerged as the inevitable administrative compulsion.

The objective is economic growth and we need to move forward on the path that takes us there.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

COVID - the great leveller

Coronavirus when it first attacked in the beginning of this year was seen as a virus that would be controlled. Nobody then imagined the wrath that the virus would unleash on mankind cutting across national boundaries and class differential.

I vividly remember the 30th and 31st of January this year when we went to the delhi airport to meet air Indians who were flying on a jumbo to Wuhan to evacuate Indian citizens, Wuhan that we all knew had an outspread of the virus. No one at that time looked at Wuhan as the epicentre of an incident that would shake the world and humanity to its bare bones. At that time we all thought that this calamity has struck a remote city in another nation and there was not even a remotest thought of us also bearing the brunt. Even our manager in Shanghai telling us of a complete lockdown in the city did not result in realization dawning upon us.

That is how calamities are – we all think that they would happen to someone else till they actually strike us.

The month of March started throwing hints. By then the virus had landed on the Indian soil and Kerala was witnessing growth. The festival of colors Holi was subdued and the excitement on the roads, trains and airports had started waning. Mid-March during my visit to Mumbai and Goa, I witnessed empty airports and no traffic jams even on the roads of Mumbai. The terror had started striking.

The one day lockdown on the 22nd of March brough the nation face to face with the impending reality and people started bracing up. Since then the onslaught of the coronavirus has been steadily growing and the country has crossed the one million mark on its journey to god knows where.

It is indeed creditable that India woke up in all seriousness much earlier and that justifies the comparatively lower numbers. Yet the seriousness of the situation remains beyond doubt.

This incident is and would perhaps change the world and the human race almost on a permanent basis. Never could we in the wildest of our dreams could imagine the closure of airlines, railway systems, shops and malls and almost the entire eco system for so long in totality. The dance of technology, wealth and comfort had made us oblivious of anything that could change our lifestyles so drastically. With travel even of a petty intercity variety becoming a project, travelling from a nation to another on business or leisure appears a far cry atleast in the foreseeable future.

Work from home with the eyes and attention rivetted on the computer screen has become the new normal, though it can never replace a physical human to human connect.

Unlike other diseases that respected rank and wealth, this virus is so contagious that in the process it does not differentiate between rich powerful nations and those of the developing or under developed variety, nor does it avoid infecting the rich and the powerful breed of humanity.

The great leveller is upon us till a vaccine is found – the earlier the better.