Millennium Post

Governance and public spaces

Governance and public spaces
New Delhi railway station’s escalators continue to remain shut for over a few months now. The reasons may be anything, from shoddy manufacturing to callous maintenance, but definitely it is a glaring case of bad governance. The station managers seem to be ignorant about the word quality.
Not this alone, most important railway stations in the country are perfect models of sloppy governance. When the least important ones do not have any prioritised agenda to service people, the most important ones falter in almost all parameters of world-class quality.

Seldom a railway station gets a ramp to enable the physically challenged or the elderly cross platforms, especially in tensed times when a train reaches its platform or is about to whistle off. None has an elevator of any standard, what to think of ones that we find in metro stations in Delhi.  Sanitation and hygiene are the messy priorities, as tracks and platforms reek with pollutants and human-animal excreta. Topping all haunt the goon-like behaviour of the overcharging porters, whose wages have increased over a good period of various railway ministers’ tenures, yet who have never been brought under any skills training programmes. Theirs is a domain of vicious lack of skills to match the current bevy of jobs in the market.

In many parts of the country, entry and exit points of a railway station are an ordeal. Most roads are broken and seldom repaired. At night, the street lamps stand dimly lit; often they don’t even exist, enough to turn the railway roads the local crime spots. These might well be the safe corridors of terrorists too across the country.  Even as the railways and their peripheries are the areas where three ‘C’s – Crime, Corruption and Coercion – and one ‘T’ (Terrorism) rule, there is another which works as an umbrella cover to the CCTV. It is vox populi or ‘V’. The inefficient workers in the railways, and around in the local civic system get political support to carry out shady activities, thus keeping the railway stations perfect bastions of trouble-spots. Everywhere there are signs of decadence, callousness, and crimes protected by the vox populi of the time. India Shining wanted to get away from all these delinquencies, and failed. India growing needs to address all this now. And are we talking about quality here? Previous railway ministers have cried hoarse about paucity of
adequate funds to spruce up the railway stations. But we never heard the loss of revenues through
wastage from non-plan expenditures. We hear a plenty of corruption at the top in Railways: former rail minister Pawan Bansal’s case being the last in the CCTV basket of India during the UPA-II’s governance, but we do not hear about wrong selections at competitions’ viva encounters? These are the underbellies of India’s pathetic railways sector.

We lacked the sense of quality always. We tended to, or chose to, lack in the expected quality. Everywhere it had been the ceremony of innocence which was drowned as the best lacked all conviction, and the worst were full of passionate intensity. With the absolute majority in Parliament and a clear make-over in popular mindset in states all around – thanks to the fact that the parties SP, JD(U), BSP, RJD and Left have been virtually swept out of the arena of decision-making for good governance – will the party in power address the core issues about railway matters now? If it does, the first stage of quality at governance in Railways would need to be addressed. For Railways are not alone the trains on rails and the stations, it also symbolises a society living in current times. Indeed we can improve upon these situations. We can solve half these problems by training our daily wagers through sops at community colleges, vocational institutes at remote areas, villages, tehsils, district towns, small towns and in cities, which would also mean training the staff required for good governance in railways.

There can be incentives like better wages after getting free training at vocational colleges for masonry, electrician’s fundamentals, plumbing, wood crafting, carpentry, ironwork, gilding, welding, etc. Prime Minister’s Rojgar Yojna or 100-days’ work policy can be freed from real-politick, replaced by compulsory simultaneous education in vocational training institutes in remote areas, or even reformed or scrapped. The idea should eventually be readdressed to empower even the remotest citizenry, forest-dwelling tribal communities, who would join the government’s drives to stop foreign agents from poaching Indian fauna or smuggling out Indian flora. 

We have the money. A few lakh crores of rupees in forms of two per cent funds saved annually from the PATs (profit after taxes) by the PSUs for various Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR). Most of the CSR savings in the public sector companies go unspent or might have indeed been spent without transparency. Though a few companies have taken some such far-sighted CSR approaches like setting up a medical college, or owning a village near projects sites, the irony is the most PSUs of the country practice CSR on ad hoc basis.

Most of the Maharatna companies are no different. If they take to medical care of certain sites around their project areas, that is just for record’s sake, and often regular health-check, medication, tests and sustained therapeutic care remain in papers only. Look at the condition of old-age homes in the Capital. You shall hear the callous affairs of doctors appearing for CSR practices and vanishing for good. The principal money acquired and saved in the banks remains unspent, because the quantum of ad-hocism is often so bland that entire costs of CSRs are covered by the accrued interests only. 

The nation has a few lakh crore rupees in the coffers of the seven Maharatna PSUs (BHEL, Coal India, GAIL India, Indian Oil, NTPC, ONGC and SAIL). Although four of these Maharatnas train their staff and new recruits with superb Quality Education, and are members of the ASQ India, CSR for them is as good as dole-giving. For the other three, the scheme just does not indeed create any sense of responsibility.

It is interesting to note that the most of these Maharatnas regularly hit the worldwide Fortune 500 lists of great companies. The foursome indeed pursue the basic tenets of the six sigma module of ASQ, one of which is ‘Social Responsibility.’ But strangely, large areas of concerns – like the problems of the old and physically challenged people in crossing railway platforms, or of villagers who have to ferry a river everyday for going to schools, offices, vegetable market-places, or creating new forests through botanical afforestation to compensate the loss of flora and fauna at project sites – do not strike their imagination.

They can earn people’s faith by constructing parallel roads to stave of compulsory river-ferrying for daily commutation, or setting up and sustaining public health centres for the remote villages, knowing fully-well that the state government’s PHCs in the country mostly do not work to avowed expectations.

Funds separated from profits after taxes every year are meant for social services, because these amount to returning to the locals what have partly been taken away from them by the state.
Surojit Mahalanobis

Surojit Mahalanobis

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