From running the railways to conducting exams, silent corporate takeover of government

From running the railways to conducting exams, silent corporate takeover of government

It seems that even though it is not the government’s business to be in business, it is okay to hand over government functions and services to business, lock up stocks and barrels.

From running the railways to conducting exams, silent corporate takeover of government

During the long-term NDA/BJP-led government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whispers could be heard in the corridors of Parliament and the mainstream media that:

“Doing business is not the government’s business.”

And a determined effort to shed the gigantic burden of various public sector undertakings had begun. A ministry which strangely anticipated the title of a novel by Arundhati Roy, “ministry of disinvestment”, demonstrated great efficiency. Today we are witnessing such disinvestment in full swing. Interestingly, the current trend is not only to get rid of the burdens of industry and business, but also to offload any type of public investment, including social services and public responsibilities like l education and health. In this dogmatic and relentless campaign, even the most profitable companies were auctioned off and serious social welfare projects were seriously compromised.

A common libertarian argument was that a government burdened with too many responsibilities simply became too big and turned into a bureaucratic machine oppressing hapless citizens. In reality, the fault was not in the scale and weight of the scales, but in the nature of the relationship which transforms the citizen into a helpless victim. Instead of solving this problem, the whole idea of ​​public accountability of government was abandoned. And business enterprises focused solely on pure profit and without even the slightest accountability have been given the power to control matters with life and death implications for ordinary citizens.

In my hometown, today the bristling, bustling chaos of a growing city where at every moment certain sections of the population face serious stress due to uncoordinated construction on a gigantic scale, a rapid pace frantic but disjointed and with a casual attitude to all civic responsibilities. Now she’s an elderly woman carried to a tragic end by a ferocious jet of water from a leaking pipe left unmaintained, and now she’s two unfortunate workers beaten to a pulp by the collapse of a overhanging beam of a bridge under construction. Parts of the river that we grew up with and which formed an artery of our collective life were obscured and the bank was handed over to a businessman (apparently Jay Shah who is also said to have acquired huge land holdings in and around of the city) to be operated as an entertainment park. “Outsourcing” is the buzzword to explain this calamity.

This phenomenon, and the mentality behind it, explains the man-made national calamities that have dominated the media for days on end. Let’s look at some facts about the recent terrible accident that resulted in instant death of 10 passengers and serious injuries to around 100 victims. The true extent of the trauma caused will never be known with precision. The impact was so horrific that photographs from the scene show several compartments of one high-speed train mounted on the back of another. Apparently, as the automatic signaling system had failed, the driver of the Kanchenjangha Express received slowdown signals by another method called paper signaling while the goods train following him apparently received none. The driver and firefighter of the high-speed freight train lost their lives following the collision.

The New Indian Express had carried a report on a letter dated June 28, 2023, from the Federation of Indian Railway Engineers to the then railway minister, urging him to abandon the system of outsourcing critical functions such as maintenance and repair of signaling devices and tracks as well as overhanging structures to private companies. They argued that permanent engineers and qualified supervisors should be employed to carry out such important services. There are a large number of vacancies in these regular positions.

They made some direct remarks about the desirability of outsourcing such services, because, in their view, private companies were run by mere engineering recruits who had neither the seasoned skills nor the responsibility to perform such delicate functions and reviews. Somewhat obscurely, they also demanded that young engineers charged with such tasks be excluded from “union activities”, probably suggesting that this irresponsibility was a result of union activities. This is a rather strange insinuation, perhaps intended to convince the BJP minister of his partisan views on trade unions. However, the crux of their eminently rational plea is to end the ruinous practice of outsourcing.

Because businesses are dogmatically considered more efficient than government departments, many critical technical functions are outsourced, with sometimes disastrous results. This was the case with British Rail shortly after its privatization. Moreover, in the recent past, several such major accidents, resulting in hundreds of casualties, have occurred due to a failure of the signaling system. But the Ministry of Railways seems determined not to listen to reason.

Observers who closely follow developments in the railway sector have also claimed that in line with the NDA government’s obsession with extracting money from every service, the Ministry of Railways has focused on developing profitable trains like Vande Bharat Express to the detriment of other existing trains, which are poorly maintained, even though they carry the majority of passengers and goods.

The type of business ethics that developed under colonial rule, marked by disdain for the customer, widespread circumvention of rules and norms, falsification and corruption, today extends alarmingly to many other newly created autonomous government agencies. The Union government seems obsessed with centralizing and standardizing all government functions, with total disregard for states’ rights. From collecting taxes to conducting entrance exams to universities, medical and engineering schools. The economic model is also followed here. Hence the high and ever-increasing fees for these exams.

Second, the casual manner in which scripts are handled and graded. Corruption occurs in a systematic and organized manner. There are staggering reports that some students are willing to pay up to a million dollars and more for such corrupt dealings in exchange for good grades. Ministers and MPs are said to benefit from a share of these agreements. We wonder if the now forgotten ‘ViapamThe Madhya Pradesh scandal had paved the way for such public rackets. The NTA is an autonomous agency established by the NDA government to conduct various examinations and tests across India on the lines of a commercial enterprise and charge ever-increasing fees for such “efficient and corruption-free services”. The Supreme Court read the rules. came down hard on the NTA, but did not order a strict investigation into the scam.

It seems that even though it is not the government’s business to be in business, it is okay to hand over government functions and services to business, to lock in the stocks and the barrel. While the government is supposedly out of business, there is dismay at the silent corporate takeover of government.

(Writer Hiren Gohain is a political commentator. Views are personal.)

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