India Shining, but what about quality and efficiencies?

After being in Japan for around 6 months, I recently visited India for a couple of weeks. During this entire visit, one question continuously banged my head – India is growing, lots of money is pouring in, much is being spent on infrastructure development and people empowerment, but is it being spent efficiently? The answer to me was no, we are still far behind in using the money to its best optimum level. We are not able to achieve the service/quality levels that should be achieved after spending funds to this extent. In this write-up I have touched some of such issues based on my observations.

I was travelling on Air-India from Narita to Delhi; this was my first time to travel on Air-India. I was expecting the aircraft to be shabby but to my surprise the Boeing was very nicely maintained. Now what was unpleasant was the service offered, if an Indian (I) was uncomfortable with the service, foreigners would surely be uncomfortable. First of all most of flight attendants were well above the age of 40, no disrespect to them but internationally the trend is to have young, energetic, charming flight attendants; since flight attendant is a very highly sought after job getting fresh faces into the staff wouldn’t be a big issue. Next the service they offered was not at all chivalrous, the way they served food, the way they attended calls was inclined toward impolite. There were also some funny incidents like before the flight took off, a flight attendant opened to air freshener bottles and with two hands up in the air moved in both the pathways saying excuse excuse, this was something like taking incense sticks across the plane. Later while taking a transit from international to domestic airport, an AC bus (in poor condition) with a seating capacity of 50, was carrying a single passenger (me); leave green energy but what about the business efficiencies too?  These were just some of the incidents, but they are enough to suggest that my dear Indians we need to wake up, get out of our comfort zone and provide world-class services and quality to become world leaders. This reminds me of a recent Indian film which said “Kabil bano, Kamiyabi apke kadam chumegi” which means become competent enough, success would kiss your feet.

Let’s have a look at the rapid infrastructure growth in India; the recent budget allocated large funds for infrastructure development but what about the quality. In front of my house, construction of footpaths was going on, but not on a single day did I see any laborer doing the job of watering the cement work. The result is what we see everywhere in India, the tiles come out of the concrete or concrete develops cracks. I understand that keeping a check on corruption, bureaucracy is very difficult in such a large country but can’t we have some kind of inbuilt mechanism wherein the mistake cannot happen, Japanese call it pokayoke. Have requirements where in cement which does not require watering is used. In India I have never seen a scheduled bridge being completed on the target date, why not? Why can’t we achieve the dates? The tar roads that are most popular in India, why do they need to be redone again and again? We have some old roads, which are still rock solid but new roads require frequent maintenance, is this related to more earnings for contractors in maintenance work? Money is being spent on infrastructure at the rate of good quality work, but in spite of the quality mechanism being in place the end product is not expected quality. We all know why this is happening? We all, the bureaucrats and the government should now understand that if we want to reach the world no 1 position, quality matters; after all the money spent on the growth of country is money contributed by every Indian through various taxes and fees.

Next I would like to touch the issue of privatization; in India we have seen the great improvement in service quality at airports since they are being run by private companies. How about applying this mechanism to government properties such as rest houses too? Most of the rest houses are located at prime location or scenic tourist places, but they are maintained very poorly and even the service staff have a typical government mindset, wherein they are least bothered about the guests unless the guest is a VIP or above. Give these rest houses to private companies to run, before complete rollover, try pilot projects and based on the results decide the strategies.

I understand that all of the above measures cannot be taken overnight and they are not much in line with Indian mentality, but I believe that change is the only permanent thing in life. If we do not change right now, we would miss the train to the top slot, we would grow over the short run, FIIs would pump in money as long as they find the India story interesting and one fine day stop pumping further money. Wouldn’t it be better that we become not only the best investment centre but also the best service/product/resources provider? We have already provided these levels of services through institutions such as ISRO, where the world recognizes India as a super power in Satellite launching.