Source: The Hitavada      Date: 13 Jan 2018 10:21:31

This is the nation’s emotional and spiritual requirement at this juncture. The nation wants to remind itself that its pride is not up for sale and that it has the capability to take care of things for itself and all by itself. And that is what Independence means.

New Delhi, January 10 (Agencies): In a big bang reforms ahead of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government’s last full budget, foreign airlines were allowed to buy up to 49 per cent stake in Air India, while easing FDI rules for several sectors including brand retail and construction.

THOUGH such a major move by the Government may be described by most in laudatory terms as a mark of welcome of one more round of reforms, it also draws our attention to a massive failure of management of Public Sector Units (PSUs) over a long time of seventy years. Though this issue has been discussed on countless occasions, the Government has learned no lessons from all that long discourse in terms of management. Contrary to the expectations, the Government has often kept pumping a lot of money into PSUs in the hope that it would resurrect those enterprises from near-death conditions. Even as it did that, the Government was aware fully that if the pumping of money failed, the route of disinvestment was open. The latest so-called big gang reforms come under this category as usual.

Unfortunately, the Government never even tried to learn better management practices as this saga of the massive failure of India’s charmed Public Sector continued to drag into darker zones of incompetence and corruption. When the word ‘reforms’ became an integral part of India’s economic lexicon, then it became very fashionable to talk of disinvestment. Now also, there does not seem even a little voice of regret that Air India, until now one of India’s marks of pride, is likely to be given out to foreign investors who would buy 49% stakes in the company that is making huge losses. Once a foreign investor comes in, there would be celebrations about the deal -- without a grain of remorse that the nation could not manage its very own airline.

It is expected that this train of events would continue in future, too, and the Government would keep hiving off many of its PSUs still under its control. And as it would do that, the Government would keep talking proudly about how it has kept pushing the reforms process. Slowly, the Government would cede control of its PSUs to private parties, though with some riders in some places and with none at others. This is a saddening process for the average Indian who thinks with his head on the shoulders and heart in appropriate place. The Government still has a lot of PSUs under its control and will continue to have despite whatever pace at which reforms process is pushed. The point to be made here is in favour of those PSUs.

Average Indian people would very much insist upon keeping at least some PSUs intact beyond reforms. We still have great public sector units such as Bhilai Steel Plant, for example, that are doing exceedingly well, no matter the details of their financial conditions. It would be in the best interest of the country that such PSUs -- the Navaratnas and the mini-Navaratnas -- are maintained in the public sector as marks of national pride. The people would want many of the nation’s iconic banks, too, to be retained in public sector.

This can happen only when there is an appropriate lesson the Government learns and introduces proper management practices and command and control systems so that those enterprises are run very properly where not a rupee is wasted, not an opportunity squandered, not a creative idea unimplemented ...! And by no standard can this be described as an outlandish dream. For, when the Government allows appropriate freedom of decisions, of operations, of recruitment etc. to the PSUs, they will become ideal enterprises without much trouble. That is the scenario we would like to have.

It must be admitted that the Government did learn a few good lessons out of the PSU experience. Yet, those lessons are only symbolic and the public sector enterprises continue to be managed in a haphazard manner. In the reforms regime, this failure in management is taken as an opportunity to hive off more PSUs. The question, however, is whether the nation would actually benefit from such an attitude!

It is at this stage, therefore, that the Government must make a very serious and no-nonsense effort to introduce and inculcate an altogether professional management culture as is available in private sector corporates. There, every rupee counts, every rupee lost is lamented, every opportunity celebrated, every success is used as an humbling point so that it does not travel to the head. In simpler words, whatever is experienced in private sector management is a serious business and not anything that is politically-governed and motivated.

If this culture is introduced in the public sector units left with the Government, things will change very favourably even now. The very creation of public sector had a larger social objective. In Independent India, unfortunately, that objective was served only in absentia. Therefore, time has come to give a final burial to that casual culture and usher in a serious culture of deft management of every resource so that the public sector enterprises, too, become ideal islands of human excellence. This is not a very tall order.

Much to the contrary, this can be achieved easily if the Government decides to be absolutely professional about a new management for its public sector. This is the nation’s emotional and spiritual requirement at this juncture. The nation wants to remind itself that its pride is not up for sale and that it has the capability to take care of things for itself and all by itself. And that is what Independence means.