User’s the King

happened to meet the Chief General Manager (CGM) of one of the telephone
departments in a metro recently. Ram Vilas Paswan’s gift of free telephone to
3.25 lakh DoT employees in order to woo them into accepting DoT corporatization
was fresh in my mind. In the course of our conversation I asked the CGM and his
entire team of GMs, about their comments on the minister’s decision. They
reacted sharply saying if people in private sector could avail of perks, then
could they not give their employees simple telephones?

Later that night Paswan was seen justifying his move on TV.
His argument being if other Government employees could avail freebies like free
tickets (Railways), free ration (Defence) and free air travel (Airlines), then
so could a DoT employee. While all are aware of Paswan’s intentions, the
reaction of finance minister Yashwant Sinha, the industry, and that of the media
is also well known. The criticism has been such that now the DoT bonanza has
been put on hold under PMOs instructions.

Despite Paswan’s said intentions, it is difficult to
believe that an organization, which has been rated as one of most corrupt and
inefficient can undergo such a drastic change in attitude with this gesture. It
could cost the state exchequer upto Rs 1,200 crore.

The credentials of DoT employees are well known to
individuals and private businesses. The latest strike by DoT staffers in Delhi
is a moot example. Telephone users are not bothered if the Government decides to
give free phones. What they want is money’s worth–good service for money
spent. Government’s policies and plans must stem from the theory that user is
the king.

One very interesting issue that surfaced was that of the head
of DoT (Services). While the Government believed that speeding up of reforms
necessitated a bureaucrat on the hot seat, the Indian Telecom Service officers
disagreed. They wanted a technocrat and their demand was just. What DoT needs is
an effective technocrat who can also look beyond the interests of DoT.
Government’s decision to further break down DoT (S) has taken everybody by
surprise. Once again a shortcut approach.

However, there have been some very positive developments. One
is the Government indication that it is open to link bureaucratic structuring to
technology. The Government’s acceptance of ICE phenomenon, and some
recommendations to have a common (IT, telecom and information &
broadcasting) ministry and a regulatory authority is a welcome sign. One only
hopes that this Government does not mess up things mid way. The other good sign
is the announcement of huge plans in the area of communications and convergence
by biggies like Tatas, Reliance, etc. Their involvement will take care of
procedural as well as policy problems. These developments should encourage the
industry, the investors, and the world at large to look at India seriously.

Ibrahim Ahmed

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