Don’t be too hard on the Indian Government Servant
A recent news item from Times of India carried this information / Indian bureaucracy is the worst in Asia with a 9.21 rating out of 10, according to a report by a prestigious consulting firm based in Hong Kong.India fared worse than Vietnam (rated at 8.54), Indonesia (8.37),Philippines (7.57) and China (7.11), said the report by Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd released on Wednesday. Singapore remained the best with a rating of 2.25, followed by Hong Kong (3.53), Thailand (5.25) Taiwan (5.57), Japan (5.77), South Korea (5.87) and Malaysia (5.89)/
I find such studies misleading and unappealing as they just scratch the surface without giving meaningul insights. Such studies use the ‘outcomes’ as the basis for comparison. In this study, the ‘outcome’ is the experience one gets when they deal with the bureaucracy in various countries and then, rank them. A real test of any system can be found only when we stress test the system. In this post, I am going to use my personal experiences to explain why Indian system is much much better than what these studies proclaim.
I went to renew my passport in the Passport office in my hometown Madurai in India in 2008. There was a long queue waiting and after waiting for nearly 2 hrs in the queue, I managed to get my documents submitted for the renewal. The passport office has a website and they clearly highlight the documents required to submit your application for the passport and they also have information boards outside the office that explain what is required. But almost 8 out of 10 people in the queue didnt have documents of one kind or another and the counter staff had to send them back telling them what is missing and where they can get the documents. In a day, he deals with 20 — 25,000 people and most of the people are ‘normal’ citizens with low educational qualifications who want a passport so that they can get a job in Singapore or Dubai.
This is how a passport office queue looks like in India. I was wondering whether I can do this job of the counter staff. I will be getting INR 6,000 (USD 120) per month after deductions, no training, no yearly increments, no promotions, indifferent treatment by senior officials and have to deal with people (and that too 10 — 20,000 of them everyday)who are not trained to do things on their own. We need to be glad that this person maintains his sanity in spite of such gross challenges.
In 2007, I was waiting to board a bus from the base of Mount Fuji in Japan to go to the level from where one can trek to the top. It was late evening and I was waiting to board the last bus of the day. The counter staff was very polite which is typical of Japanese but as the crowd increased, the counter staff was losing patience and she was behaving indifferently. She was turning red and she was giving responses very angrily. A government servant in Japan is paid a hefty salary, their kids study in good schools, they have all the amenities at home, they can travel to exotic locations and they are working in a well organized structure that is designed effectively. But once the system and the boundary conditions are tested, she lost patience. Can this person work one day in India?
If you travel by train in Switzerland, you will notice how friendly the train staff are. Everyone carry themselves very well with a beautiful smile. But all this beautiful aspects of their personality will change once the boundary conditions of their peaceful system is tested. At the Interlaken station, when the number of passengers go from optimum to very high, their behaviour changes exponentially from excellent to rude. It is the same whenever the number of people exceed their optimum levels.
After encountering experiences in two of the best countries in the world, Japan and Switzerland, my respect for the Indian government staff grew tremendously. Even when their basic needs are not met and even without any training, they are doing their best within their knowledge. If you put this Indian staff in Japan and Switzerland, this person will obviously do much better than the locals.
Excellence and for that matter, everything in life is based on context. Change the context and then evaluate people because it is easy to deliver the goods when things are easy.