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​Bureaucracy with Mediocracy in Governance of Roads and Infrastructure

November 1, 2016

Can our Governance and Road infrastructure get Excellent and world class? Can our existing roads and infra be better and improved? Will the mindset of bureaucrats and authorities and their orientation make a difference? What is the impact of being mediocre? Who will take accountability and responsibility for making our roads better? Is corruption spread across or people can discriminate for what do they want to be corrupt?

Having been interacting with many bureaucrats, administrators and authorities who hold critical roles and responsibilities in managing public roads and infrastructure, the orientation of many of these officials have been mediocre in nature. Their understanding, exposure, and depth in their own domains needs to be lot more global and latest. The kind of questions they ask or want to know has been outdated and sometimes sounds silly. The need to learn and educate themselves on the latest methods, innovations, materials, and new age ways of reducing cost, environmental impact and agile methods are in plenty.

This article is an attempt to capture few insights that I could capture as I meet and interact with people who matter and has the power and responsibility to make a difference in the system. My views are personal perspectives and can be with limited number of interactions and experience. This however is a representative sample which I believe is prevalent in majority.  

When I say mediocre in nature, this does not mean they are not doing anything or don’t know anything, it just means that they are currently working in an average environment, just about meeting expectations or lower. The need for today is not to be just average/ ordinary / run-of-mill or mediocre, there is a need to go beyond meeting expectations to exceeding and creating “Wow” effect in everything being done. Being excellent in governance, road infrastructure and public transportation calls for taking a radical and out of box thinking, working beyond the mediocre mindset and competence

During the process of my interactions with these authorities, some of the questions related to roads, potholes, causes of road issues, breakage, water clogging, technical issues and many other causes are just too little known and explored. The typical responses I hear from most of them are: 

  • Public don’t take ownership

  • People wash their cars /vehicles and put water on roads 

  • It’s because of rains and no drainage system

  • We don’t have funds for maintenance

  • Sub-contractors don’t do their work they just want to make money

  • Need lot of awareness campaign and many other reasons. 

These are not those ground-breaking reasons that none are aware or unknown. Not even one person so far has mentioned that they - government and road authorities are responsible for the status of our roads. There is clearly shifting of responsibility and pointing fingers at public and others for the issues. This attitude is clearly mediocre.

The first and foremost change needed for bringing excellence in the system is to take ownership and self-accountability. If we can have these authorities and bureaucrats take a small step with understanding the root cause of the issues and have a clear “Carrot and Stick” approach, it may have a significant impact in our road infrastructure. 

Having been meeting many industrial bodies, the authorities along with technical heads who run these industrial areas who are part of the associations also need a lot of attention. They are little better than government bureaucrats and officials, but still in mediocre state of affairs. They are least exposed and aware of latest methods, technologies, and environmentally safe techniques to solve their industrial area needs. There are few decision makers and heads who are almost like any other bureaucrats / officer who wants to make money rather than making an impact. My latest encounter with a president of a large industrial association was very disturbing, where he out rightly asked for a share in every sqmt of billing. He suggested that I should increase the per sqmt cost and that excess to be transferred to him. Alternatively, he said “you can sponsor my family for a foreign trip once a year so that his stress levels are lowered”. These statements & attitude makes me wonder, what kind of people run our associations and manage public roads? Is this seen across or these kinds of people are few in numbers? Are people able to see the social impact and benefit or do they just have their personal interest which supersedes any other cause. 

It is a sad state of affair where they call themselves professionals, with multiple degrees /post graduations, authority, awareness, and power but still incline to petty money making activity in the most unethical way and impacting possible good work for public roads.  There are all chances that I would not be allowed and given any further work for pothole management in that industrial area. How many would have gotten into this kind of a situation? How many of them give up and get trapped into this whirlpool? 

 

People who wants to make a social impact with innovative and cost effective approach will get into this trap of mediocre and corrupt officials and authorities. Despite having a clear intent, method, and innovation, many are not able to make a difference in the system and act. Having these people as the hurdle and road blocks in execution, there needs to be strong and credible set of people who will not budge and bow down to these blocks. Ability to deal with these mediocre people calls for very high level of conviction and commitment. It would be very tempting and appealing as it can get anyone to that trap and start becoming one of them. The stakes are very high & one can get easily convinced and pulled into it. There is a very strong need for having these change makers to be conscious of when to draw the line and maintain arm’s length distance and still get things done. Ability to push around these people who are in thousands where you are in single digit counts, the shoulder strength and mental strength must be of very high order. 

Can we enable more such strong and high conviction set of people to make a difference and start adding significant value to the society. Public roads and infrastructure needs more such strong people both in private and government bodies. Can these people get into main stream action, contributing not just as advisory and consultant but in execution and ground work? We need more people take up these social ventures to get excellence in our roads and infrastructure development. These change makers should start work both at root cause level and at governance and top level. There are many who focuses only on top and leave the execution and many get into execution not able to tap the top. Both needs to be done in balance and with appropriate pressure and rigor. This management skill of managing top, middle and bottom layers of any organization is not new, but this is rare in our road and infrastructure management. Moving towards excellence from being mediocre needs strong balancing and deeper understanding of the context in a holistic manner. 

I have been learning and gaining experience in dealing with mediocre and closed mindset authorities and bureaucrats and as I sail through the journey, my conviction levels are challenged and I am pushing myself to hold strong and continue to be one of the change makers with clarity on social impact and getting the vision of “Having Indian roads pothole free and fix any within 3 days”.  I would need more supporting hands and guidance which can take this effort of moving the mediocre crowd towards excellence and beyond to make a difference and improve our road infrastructure. I urge you to share views, contribute both intellectually and morally to make our roads and infrastructure world class and excellent and not be stuck with mediocracy. 

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