Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Even Americans complain about our bureaucracy, it’s not only Armed Forces that has trouble with it - By Ashali Varma

On September 21, I saw a very interesting discussion on Bloomberg TV entitled CEO Forum, Washington. The three very eloquent Indian CEOs were Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Cyrus Mistry and Sunil Mittal. They were talking about Prime Minister Modi’s reforms and how he wanted to fast track development and growth. The American CEO’s, who one by one stated that they wanted more tax transparency, more ease of doing business and most of all they worried about Indian bureaucracy. Each of them had businesses in India and had been stymied by our bureaucratic systems and they wondered if Modi could do anything about this.

Someone from the audience asked if India was open to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) starting projects in India. In the past, Americans felt that SMEs had a lot of difficulty in coming into India because of the layers of bureaucracy they had to go through.
The Indian CEOs did say that things have changed on the ground and that the Prime Minister Office is more involved in smoothing the way for foreign businesses to come in.
They then asked if the India government was encouraging private Research and Development (R&D). Ms. Shaw said that R&D was actually a very big focus of this government. The public sector R&D was being encouraged to tie in with the private sector.
Then again the discussion went back to the bureaucracy and how could India change with the same bureaucracy in place.
This made me think of the our Armed Forces and how over the years, in spite of Supreme court orders, parliamentary decisions, and even the once powerful Congress promising One Rank One Pension (OROP), for the last 40 years at least — the bureaucrats had been able to stymie it even while giving themselves really atrociously big handouts in all areas, be it pay, hospitalization or pensions.
Now, there is political will and the Prime Minister really wants to bring in OROP but again there are bureaucrats who have said it in writing that it can be implemented but it would bankrupt India.
All I really want to ask them and for the government to do is:
  1. For six months why don’t bureaucrats change places with the army? Let the senior officers man their portfolios and let them go to Siachen or wherever and live like their army counterparts. After all let’s face it, bureaucrats are interchangeable. It is not as if they have a PHD in one area and stick to that area for the rest of their lives. Today they could be in the ministry of Finance and tomorrow in Defence. There is something not right about this.
  2. I also feel that the time has come to get rid of the bureaucrats that are deadwood. Years of sitting on files have made them self-important and pretty much redundant today and those who don’t shape up, must ship out.
  3. The reform in the civil services must be taken up on an urgent basis or as the Americans in the Bloomberg show said their every step will be stymied.
The Congress party loved the bureaucrats because there was no urgency to anything. With political paralysis the babus could have a wonderful time sitting on files and giving ponderous suggestions on how not to do business.
While I say all this about babus, I do want to emphasis that there are brilliant and hardworking babus who do much good for the country but can 20 percent carry the weight of 80 percent of deadwood? Won’t governance suffer?
In conclusion, I will end with a little example of a true story that was told to me. A very large multinational company who did business in India and was really important for the country went to meet Modi when he was CM of Gujarat. Three very senior people had flown in from different parts of the world for the meeting. They told me that they had expected the usual wait and excuses but were stunned when not only did Modi meet them on time but gave them the full half an hour they had asked for. He focused on their issues, asked pertinent questions and then told them that in the next three days their work would be done and all they had to do was meet the state finance minister who would meet them the next day and then have their paperwork ready to meet the state environment minister.
As the Head of this multinational told me later, they did what he asked them to do and it was like ‘a breath of fresh air’. No money was asked for infact every minister greeted them with “how can I serve you?”
And their work was done. But in Delhi during this same time with the Congress regime in power, the ministers made them wait for hours, gave them two minutes of their time and treated them as if they were doing them a great favour. Yet nothing was done!
My father always used to say the buck stops at the top. You set an example and people down the line will follow. I only hope it works with the bureaucracy today as our Prime Minister is setting the example by his 16-18 hour schedule. Will the babus step up to the plate? That remains to be seen.

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