November 26th is the day on which the great constitution of the republic of India was promulgated. It is celebrated as the “Samvidhan Divas”.
Indian Railways, being a people’s organisation, celebrates this great day with enthusiasm and with a renewed vigour to take the nation to the constitutional goals. I started wondering as to what can be the greatest contribution of a public entity like the great Indian Railways towards realising the cherished goals of our constitution?
Well! I got a plenty of answers. Above all, Railways is an engine of ‘social justice’. Think about it! We carry more than the planet’s population on our wheels every year. Without it, the dreams to carry electricity to the hinterland would be a pipe dream. It is one of the most inclusive and diverse organisation I have ever seen. India’s defence is critically linked to Railways which supports mobilisation of men, material and machine in conflict zones. Railways maintains the territorial integrity of the country. It links the hearts and souls across the mother India and thus promoting the spirit of fraternity.
Not to mention is the fact that, Railways is often the primary site witness to the vibrant democracy India is. Often it is used by the pressure groups to pressurise the government for their interests and agitate for their rights. It is a great leveller as it ensures equality of opportunity with its extensive egalitarian and equitable recruitment system. And above all, Railways gives people the mobility and the mobility is the great expression of the “Freedom”.
But how do we go about this grand vision in our day to day organisational functioning? How do we link everything we do to this constitutional vision? As we know, Railways is largely a functional organisational structure at the cutting edge where everyone carries out a specialised activity on strict Weberian bureaucratic principles of ‘division of labour’. This can get mundane at times. People can cultivate a ‘cemented thinking’, a ‘tunnel vision’ and a ‘silo mentality’. How do we then make sure that in this ‘activity trap’, we don’t lose our sight from the vision which is a constitutional vision?
Well! Here comes the organisational culture and the climate. It is all about the shared values and the assumptions at our workplace. If we promote ‘citizen centricity’ or the ‘client centricity’, we would be reaching our vision. Who comes first? Our client which is the citizen of India travelling on our wheels or our narrow personal interest? Is our incentive structure such which links the individual goals of our employees with our organisational goals?
These assumptions gets systematised in our working and ultimately shapes our choices at the workplace. It all starts with the leadership. What tunes, lyrics and tones a leader sets determine whether the music would be an orchestra or a cacophony. Yes! Railways is a giant continental organisation and so, there exists micro climates under a supra climate of the Railways. What the leader appreciates and what the leader condemns decides the priorities of the employees. Since, Railways is not a private organisation and so the managers here are not in a position to create the monitory reward differential on the basis of performance. What then they use is the ‘coercive power’ of disciplinary action. Tough, it is a handy tool, but still, it is very costly and only to be used sparingly. What leaders should try instead is more to create a ‘positive work climate’. It is where employees are rewarded more than punished. It is about creating an appreciating culture.
So, do we give the space and freedom to our team members and staff to openly raise the difference of opinion? Do we encourage them to think and to keep the ideas floating? Do we give them a rough face when they speak in between raising disagreement and suggesting something better? Do we appreciate them every time in front of all when they do the good work? Do we share with them the reason of why we are taking a particular decision or merely expect them to implement everything like a zombie?
All these are very critical questions which every leader should keep asking oneself in self reflection. Why? Because it prevents the organisation from becoming ‘dogmatic’ and keeps it ‘lively’ with fresh ideas. People realise then the impact of their work and how much critical it is to realise our constitutional vision. Everyone in the organisation must feel belonged and feel important and have proud in what they do everyday.
Linking the everyday work to a great vision has a tremendous possibility to make people realise their best. I see this happening practically while I am working as a personnel officer in Indian Railways. Whenever my staff would feel down and hopeless about any good change, I try to tell them how their work makes a huge difference.
Let’s look at these incidents. Whenever any new recruitment is to be done in a cadre, we calculate the vacancy and reservation points in the roster in a sheet called the ‘top sheet’. Now, the staff has been doing it for years. They started feeling that it is just a petty activity and is of no significance. This would at times make them demotivated in this work and so careless at times making mistakes. I then once showed them the Article 16 of the constitution calling for the equality of opportunity and also the judgements of the supreme court on reservations (Nagraj verdict, Mandal case). They realised that if they do any mistake, may be some candidate would miss on her constitutional rights as may be then the roster points would be wrongly calculated making the affirmative actions less effective. After that consciousness, I found that they started doing more detailing in the exercise realising its gravity and felt proud. As I told them that if this sheet is wrong, there would be litigations and one hearing costs the Railways at least INR 100000 (i calculated this. more on this later). Already there are more than 30000000 cases pending with Indian judiciary and so, is it not a matter of proud that one hour of your careful work would reduce one court case?
Similar goes with the right to information (RTI) cases. Earlier I found that they would be disposed off citing any frivolous reason like, ‘the question does not pertains to RTI’. Similar arrogance I noticed in our external communication. Like say writing the letter to the applicant denying appointment in railways. Now, here I found many court cases where the judiciary has given adverse judgement for the administration simply because what was done was not “reasoned”.
That is a very settled jurisprudence in our constitution. Article 14 guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of law to all persons. Various judgements have made this clear, that if anything is done, “arbitrarily” or without a reasonable classification, it would be violation of the constitutional rights under this article.
Thus, it is very important that our speaking orders are truly “speaking”. Every decision we make on the file need to clearly spell the “reasons” and the “objective basis” of that decision. It will make sure that decisions are properly deliberated and everyone in the chain of command applies the mind to concur with or refute the reasoning of the other. It would ensure the constitutional rights of those would be safeguarded who are impacted by our decisions.
This small step would be the most critical to build a “constitutional culture” in our great organisation. Then everything “small” will become “big” for the employees. It would bring a whether of motivation and a ‘reasoning revolution’. It would be a renaissance of sorts and would save our organisation from many external troubles while making us internally robust.
This begins with the assumptions leaders cultivate for the fellow employees working. It would be a fallacy to assume that they are not capable to reason or to understand the purpose of a mission. This I saw while implementing the digital project of HRMS. When my higher leaders came on the shop floor and explained to our team the urgency and importance of the project, our entire team cultivated a unity of purpose in no time. What could not be achieved in months was done in days time. So, they are willing to come along! Are we ready to take them along? Are we then ready to make it “our” journey and ride it together?
Well! This is not that simple. It all boils down to our most fundamental beings as human. Do we think of others as a human being first or we merely treat them as organisational subjects? These questions will be even more profound when the young India changes the internal demography of Railways with Gen -Z. We need to keep people at the centre of what we do. Only then we would be marching ahead in unison to build and strengthen the constitutional culture.
And a constitutional culture begins with a constitutional character. Ultimately, it would be happening with the cultivation of right human values. After all, it is all about the care and compassion. As above all, the constitutional culture is a “caring culture” and the constitutional culture is a “compassionate culture”.
Abhishek Tale says
Excellent Tarun. Your thoughts and ideas reflect the genuinity in your character. The vision that this article provides will reignite the minds of the reader and will profoundly impact beliefs, values and morals. Keep enlightening.
Dr Anil Kumar says
Excellent article Tarun. You have well articulated the importance of railways in a vast country like India.