TRAIN ACCIDENTS AND GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY IN INDIA
Awadh-Assam Express was an UP train but it was running on the DOWN track and covered a distance of 17 Km at a speed of 80Km per hour. The train crossed a few stations, many signal points, large number of railway employees, but no one noticed that the train was on a track where it was not supposed to be. The consequence was a head-on collision at Ghaisal, a small railway station in Eastern India, where at least Two Hundred Ninety persons died and about 315 were injured. Railway Minister of India resigned. Many senior officials were suspended or were asked to proceed on leave. None of these high-ranking officials was present in that ill-fated seventeen-km stretch. The persons who could have stopped the train were all junior employees. Yet, none of them have faced any action so far.
Indians like to find a big scapegoat for everything that goes wrong. Fixing of responsibility on someone junior is an anathema to the Indian psyche. Burdened with centuries of casteist mindset, Indian mind cannot accept that someone who does physical work can be a responsible person. Hence one finds utmost irresponsibility at the junior levels. It is an irony that a country blessed with the best of minds and claiming to have the capability to send man to moon, does not know how to do simple jobs like cleaning floors.
Bhopal is the capital of one of the largest states of India. Bhopal has a medical college - Gandhi Medical College. There is a hospital known as Hamidia Hospital attached to the medical college. The hospital has an unenviable reputation that if a perfectly healthy person was admitted to the hospital for ten days he/she would be infected with at least two diseases if not more. If Guinness Book of World Records had an entry for the dirtiest hospital, Hamidia Hospital would be a serious contender. Attempts have been made from time to time to improve the conditions at Hamidia - Hospital Superintendent has been changed a number of times; State Health Minister has held meetings with senior doctors; Special campaigns have been conducted that have provided photo-opportunities to bureaucrats and politicians. Yet, there has been no change at Hamidia and probably there will never be a change at Hamidia. The reason is obvious. The persons, called Grade Four employees in the local parlance, who should normally be responsible for cleaning up have no sense of responsibility and are not held responsible by anyone.
If someone is considered responsible for some work, the person has an opportunity to get some rewards for a job well done and also faces the risk of being punished for a bad job. In India, junior Government employees get neither rewards nor punishment. One is neither appointed nor promoted on the basis of one's capabilities. The employee is perpetually engrossed in the morass of reservations, casteism, time-bound promotions, flattery, petty politics and a labyrinth of rules and regulations. Caught in all this, work becomes an activity of lowest possible importance, all talk of efficiency sounds hollow and signing in the attendance register becomes the sole duty of an employee.
Across the world, there have been various theories on the subject of motivating employees to work and to increase efficiency and productivity at workplace. Generally speaking, the capitalist system has three theories of motivation. The first is based on the concept of love and lays emphasis on the dignity and sense of responsibility of the individual. It assumes that if someone is treated with due respect and is made aware of his responsibility towards the organisation, one will work well. The second theory is based on the fear of unemployment. The insecurity arising from the fear of being removed from job acts as a great motivator. The third theory is based on the carrot approach. Employees are motivated by rewards like promotions, additional perks, prizes etc. In any capitalist society, all the three theories in varying degrees operate almost simultaneously. On the other hand in a communist setup, a person can neither be removed from a job nor can he be rewarded and the communists do not even believe in love or in respect and dignity of the individual. Hence low productivity had been a major problem in all communist countries. Workers in Soviet Union could face severe punishment for dereliction of duty and could also land up in some camps in cold icy Siberia. Yet, the productivity in Soviet Union did not improve to the desired levels and this proved to be one of the major reasons for the downfall of USSR.
India has a mixed economy. In practical terms this means that India is neither capitalist nor communist. The mixed economy has yet to evolve its own theory of motivation. In Government as well as in various organisations and industries controlled by the Government, just like the communist system, a person can neither be removed from a job nor can he be rewarded and love or dignity of the individual has no meaning in a dehumanised bureaucratic setup. On the other hand there are no concentration camps or severe punishments as were the hallmark of the Soviet structure. Thus a Government employee in India has neither motivation nor any fear to work and perform in a productive manner. Instead of motivation or fear, there are unique caste-based calculations that may have various laudable objectives but increasing efficiency or productivity is certainly not one of them.
Article 335 of the Constitution of India lays the condition of "the maintenance of efficiency of administration" while taking into consideration "the claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a state". Such a conditionality makes it obvious that the founding fathers of the Constitution of India did envisage that caste-based appointments are likely to affect the efficiency of administration. Ideally, there should have been a continuous evaluation of the effects of caste-based appointments on the efficiency of the administration in India. Unfortunately, instead of doing what seems obvious, India has created a welfare state - a state committed not to the welfare of its people but to the welfare of the servants of the people.
Any job involves two aspects. First aspect is related to the individual - salary, allowances, perks etc. cause welfare of the individual. The other aspect is social - the employee does some work leading to welfare of the society as a whole. The first is the cost paid by the society for getting the benefits that form the second aspect. Contrary to all norms of cost-benefit analysis, Indian political leaders who are supposed to represent the collective will of the society have always acted benevolent by maximising costs while ignoring all considerations of benefits to the society.
Efficiency and productivity benefit the whole society. In today's technological world, even a minor deficiency in efficiency can cause havoc. If each member of the signaling staff of railways performed correct ninety-nine per cent of the time and gave one per cent wrong signals, the devastation that will be caused can be easily imagined. There can be no dearth of such examples. Whether it is a matter concerned with national security or with food security or with civil aviation or urban administration, each and every field needs the highest levels of efficiency, productivity and quality. India needs to realise this. It is high time that there was a national people's movement in India to bring home the point that the survival of India in the next millenium depends on the efficiency, productivity and quality of Government and semi-Government departments and organisations. It must also be realised by all Indians that an incapable person appointed either on basis of caste or on the basis of shady connections or on the basis of some other consideration, causes enormous damage to the nation as a whole.
Supreme Court of India has recently ruled that admissions to advanced courses in engineering and medicine leading to super speciality should be based on merit only and there should be no caste-based reservations for such courses. This seems fairly obvious to anyone outside India but it is almost a revolutionary judgement in India where a majority of Government jobs as well as admissions to educational institutions run by the Government are based on reservations for various castes and tribes. Supreme Court of India has initiated a welcome process by linking the provisions of article 15(4) of the Constitution of India regarding advancement of socially and economically backward sections with wider interests of the society. However, it must also be realised that the wider interests of the society are linked not just to super speciality courses of engineering and medicine but are linked with each and every person in Government service. It would be great if the Supreme Court judgement can shake up the country that represents a fifth of humanity to wake up and realise that it needs to change its operating software to survive in a world that is becoming increasingly competitive.
VT JOSHI & ANIL CHAWLA
17 August, 1999
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VT JOSHI (1925-2008) worked for more than fifty years as a journalist. He retired from THE TIMES OF INDIA in 1989. During 1985-89 he was the Special Correspondent of THE TIMES OF INDIA in Pakistan. His books "PAKISTAN: ZIA TO BENAZIR" and "INDIA AT CROSS ROADS" (co-author GG Puri) were widely reviewed in both India and Pakistan.
ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.
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