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5 February 2008

Of kings and kingdoms

And turfs and territories and fiefs and fiefdoms.

Question: Can we measure what the private sector has contributed to making Mumbai better?

Any study, report, surveys?

[ In God we trust- all others bring data*]

Other than creating and providing jobs of course. This will be the hackneyed answer to my question. But it is posed from a different perspective and if any of you wish to answer or think about it, then I expect something that is other than the tried and tested 'canned responses'.

A couple of weeks ago, the media covered how Dr.T.C will join the private sector (no further update there) and where he joins is his prerogative really, but it got me thinking. Is the 'private sector' vastly better than the alternatives? The obvious answer may be 'yes'- the money and the scope of freedom etc, but scratch below the surface and I wonder.

The private sector does not seem to have done anything for Mumbai in proportion to their presence and influence. Any efforts seem to me very limited and far far short of what could be done. One visible impact is 'greening' (an apology of some ferns and ornamental plants) of the minuscle traffic islands that dot some main thoroughfares with a tiny tinny board that states "maintained by xyz corporation'. Then an odd music show or sport event.

In an individual capacity I have been fortunate to have got a tremendous extent of support and freedom to do the needful in most instances within the private sector. But I have also left a job where to my increasing discomfort, it was as becoming rather difficult to do my work or deliver unless one 'falls in line' with powers that are/may be.

The whole 'shortage' and "famine' of talent that corporate India apparently faces, is largely a self-perpetuating myth.Woven to deflect such governance issues and issues of appropriate freedom, recognition of merit, appropriate rewards and recognitions and other issues ranging from minor to major of corruption or at the very least lack of ethical practices.

When I see the debates on what companies can do as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR), my first response is 'treat the employees well'. The principle of 'First do no harm'. Then care about your surroundings and the community. This includes relationships with vendors and customers and all entities involved. Treat all well and deal with those who also incorporate ethical practices.

While some of them in private sector reasonably support initiative and allow freedom, a large many of them still survive and function as fiefdoms or at best like a military setting with fear and punitive environment ; with insecurities (kissa kursi ka) and babu culture being very prevalent. The bottom line is QoQ profits and never mind if the employee dies on the job delivering it. CSR is relegated to supporting some much distanced good cause while aligning with some NGO of the many that abound.

Therefore as a private sector player, I will develop golf courses to woo and impress my foreign clients but not build or develop or maintain a public park of reasonable size and worth. I will 'adopt' a village some 700 miles away but not a slum that is in the vicinity. (The village will quite likely be the one where the chairman or MD or his wife is originally from so they are like demi Gods when they visit). I will form a foundation for the cause of education but not undertake any responsibility for the state of government funded schools in my city (even if it is something so simple as giving it a fresh coat of paint or some drinking water fountains). I will neither plant nor grow trees or start/support any environment initiatives. I will get all my employees to deduct monies as part of payroll giving while hundreds of years old institutions like museums, libraries, animal and human hospitals, fire stations and science & research institutions in the city languish due to lack of funds and management inputs.

A city that has given birth to me and my company, nurtured me and helped me grow my wealth in the stock market. I will turn a blind eye and deaf ear to all these even as I ensure that the stock options are highly disportionate, if at all existent. The smallest employee at the shop floor should just be grateful that he has a job. Imperialism anyone?

There are many government and public sector companies that have bagged several feathers in their cap and bureaucrats have achieved laurels. Shreedharan of KRC and Delhi Metro, and banks like SBI being recent cases in point. Sheila Dikshit, CM of Delhi has been quoted in how she gave her people the space and freedom to operate. For that matter, Dr. TC himself in Nagpur and Thane!

I could go on but to summarise, it is not so much an outcome of sector, private, public, ngo or government. It is not about politics (statehood or none); it is not only about finances, investments or resources. It is about all these only to the extent of enablers. It is not any more about the Marathi manoos or the Mumbaikar spirit.

It is about leadership.

And all the aspects that go with it. Issues of greed, corruption, integrity, trust and such. Cynics may dismiss it as nice sounding adjectives propounded by a naive blogger, but I cannot see it any other way. And a simple principle of nature states that till one learns, the lessons will be repeated.

In the days of monarchy, the saying went- Jaisa raja, vaisa praja.

As the king, so the citizens.

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* From Dilbert

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