Friday, August 10, 2012

Shivpal Yadav may be an ass, but what he said is worth debating.….

By “allowing”, if not downright “encouraging” his bureaucrats to “steal a little”, Shivpal Yadav has stirred a hornet’s nest. How can a minister of a Government openly and brazenly make such a suggestion to his bureaucrats? Before I explain why I think the issue he has raised is hardly wrong, let me say this upfront. I have no interest in defending Shivpal Yadav. As I look at it, he is an ass and deserves the severest form of punishment for his recalcitrant statement. Having said that, I think it would be good to pause and look at the inner truth that he seems to have inadvertently spilled out.

There is something called “the elephant in the room syndrome”. Basically, what this means is that sometimes when there is an inconvenient big elephant sitting in a small room (and taking away all the space), we still ignore its presence because we simply don’t want to acknowledge its presence. We step by its side and pretend it doesn’t even exist. But the truth is that it does. And our inability or unwillingness to acknowledge this reality makes us do funny things. The Indian political scenario is full of such things. What Shivpal Yadav has inadvertently brought out is one such thing.

The fact is that the bureaucrats in our country make a pittance in the name of salary. Even the seniormost bureaucrat of the country – the Cabinet Secretary of India – makes a “take home” salary of less than Rs 1 lac a month. To put this number in the right perspective, let me mention that this is the kind of salary an MBA from a half-decent institute makes in the corporate sector within the first five years of working there. Considering how difficult it is to clear the IAS exam, and how brilliant our bureaucrats are, isn’t it a shocking fact that we pay them so less?

To be sure, they do get other perks. But none of these perks are “amassable”. None of them can be “taken home” by the bureaucrat after retirement. His swanky house in Lutyen’s Delhi goes the moment his job goes. The free phone calls, the mass of “orderlies”, the expense accounts…..all vanish the moment a person retires. As soon as his career ends, the “all powerful” bureaucrat – one who routinely handled projects worth tens of thousands of crores of rupees – suddenly becomes a virtual pauper. Suddenly, he faces the reality of shifting out of a swish house and moving to the outskirts of the city in a much more modest accommodation. Suddenly, he realizes he cannot partake of the consumerism that he perhaps helped the country realize. Suddenly, he thinks why he wasn’t “smart enough” – as smart as many others from his cadre. And as word spreads – and as people observe the plight of this poor soul – the lesson is learnt across the board. Be smart. That’s the mantra. Whatever that means.

Shivpal Yadav has only shone the light on the elephant in the room. We don’t want to pay our bureaucrats even half-decent salaries. If they get a 20% increase over their ridiculously low pay scales, our TV anchors put together a panel of wise men who scream why our bureaucrats don’t deserve such increments. I was shocked once when an ex-boss of mine – a high profile foreign banker and now an Anna follower – once argued that the average salary of people in India is less than even Rs 5000 a month; and hence why should the Cabinet secretary get much more? I was shocked because for all his life, this ex-boss of mine earned more than an 8 figure salary. He has accumulated enough to fend for his entire life. And now he wants to preach saintliness to the others.

Come on. Let’s get to the truth and clean that up the mess. Let’s pay our bureaucrats what they deserve. They are some of the brightest people I have met. Most of my fellow students at IIM were incapable of getting through the IAS. It’s a different matter that most didn’t even want to join the IAS because of the kind of pay scales that exist. If we do what my ex-boss suggested – pay our seniormost bureaucrats Rs 5000 a month – then all we will get to run our administration is trash. And we already see signs of that happening. The quality of bureaucrats is dropping; and with that the quality of administration.

So while Shivpal Yadav may be an ass, the issue he has raised is a very valid one. In the absence of a decent pay scale, and faced with the temptations of today’s life, bureaucrats find other ways to fend for themselves. The ordinary hawaldar may take a few hundred rupees in lieu of official traffic challans; and the senior bureaucrat may be gratify himself with a little bit of “smartness” here or there.

So rather than scream at Shivpal Yadav and run more TRP-grabbing shows on TV, it would be better to pause and think about what his inanity has brought out. If one could correct the salaries of the bureaucrats, then one could rightly demand better performance from them. What this country needs even more than a cleansing of its corrupt political system is good governance. Projects which are supposed to end on a particular date must end by that date. Funds which are allocated to a particular project must get correctly utilized for that project. Delays should be unacceptable, quality of work paramount. If only Anna did a fast on governance rather than blindly attack corruption, this country would be better served. In a way, under the present disposition, I think I am happier with a bureaucrat and a minister who are “slightly corrupt”, but who are “damn good administrators”. A shocking statement to make, but if you remove the emotions, you will agree with me.

The real truth is that we need to acknowledge the real reasons why there is corruption and poor governance in our country. We simply cannot pay the kind of salaries we pay our seniormost bureaucrats and then expect them to give us world-standards governance. But do we have the guts to face the truth? I don’t think so….

1 comment:

  1. If you couple the idea of smaller government - with the government getting out of all places where private enterprise can flourish - airlines, steel, ports etc. with your idea of paying the bureaucracy better, we can actually get it right.