It so happened that we had a chance, recently, to visit the Heavens, and come back too. What we saw and heard there were found to be worth-sharing. Hence this attempt.
When we were wandering ‘lonely as a cloud’ in the Heaven, we came across a person sitting under a tree in a pensive mood for a long time. How could there be a man so sad when he was in Heaven? We went nearer to see who he was. What a pleasant surprise! The unpleasant person was Prof. B.P. Adharkar, the Father of Social Security in India. We were just watching him, without his being aware of our presence. All of a sudden, there was a flash in his eyes when he looked in a particular direction. We could then see the reason for his lit up eyes. He got up and cheerfully welcomed the person who came near him and shook hands. He was Sir William Beveridge.
“Good Morning, Mr. Beveridge! How are you? Happy to see you here.”
“Good Morning, Mr. Adharkar! I wanted to meet you for a long time. I could make it only today. I saw you sitting as if you were lost in thoughts. What is on in your mind? May I know that?”
“Oh, sure! I was just thinking about the way the Social Security system is functioning at present in India. How marvellous the scheme was, when you prepared the blue print for it!”
“It is okay! All of us had done our bit for the society. But what made you to be lost so much in your thoughts today?”
“A lot, A LOT!. I do not know how to describe or where to start from. But, the only positive thing is that the present CEO of the ESI Corporation really wants to bring the organisation back on rails. But, there are many vested interests working against that objective. I do not know what the future holds for the ESIC. It is the backbone of the nation’s economy. But, people do not seem to realise its importance.Things had gone awry for quite some time. The after-effects are felt, still. The organisation must recover from those effects.”
“Oh, no! What do you say? It was you who were instrumental in preparing the ESI Act. It was prepared on the basis of the report given by you on 15.08.1944. Was there anything wrong in your report?”
“I do not know! I just prepared the report as per the standards of the 1940s. I did not know that things would move this way.”
“Can you please elaborate?”
“That is what I said. I do not know where to start. There are so many things that we have to discuss. I am just flabbergasted at the way things had gone astray for some time that it has become a Herculean task for the present day Administrators to clean the Augean Stable.”
“Mr. Adharkar, you are just increasing my anxiety and worry with all these statements. You please start from somewhere, anywhere. We are not writing a book here to narrate things in an orderly fashion. Do share what comes to your mind, and whatever you feel like saying. We can revisit the same issue again and again during our discussion, and there is no statutory bar of any kind to it.”
“Yeah, that’s true! Mr. Beveridge. Let me tell you about the Standing Committee and the ESI Corporation. I conceived of them as autonomous bodies consisting of people who would exhibit real and sincere interest in the welfare of the working population. I thought these bodies would function like brain-storming centres and decisions would be taken after no-holds-barred discussion. But, contrary became the reality. Discussions were managed. You can see the article “Executive Powers of the Chairman, Standing Committee” published in the website ‘flourishingesic.info’ in this regard. Except a very few, the other members are not evincing keen interest and involvement in the state of affairs. Take for example, the officers who are on these Bodies as members representing their respective State Governments. Do they take part in any discussion on important matters? Do they, at least, want to get things clarified, when information that affects the System, is made available to them? No!”
“But, why? After all, they are there in these Elected Bodies as representatives of their State Governments. If there is nothing to represent for their States, why should they speak?”
“No, the meetings of these Bodies are not like the meetings of Chief Ministers for allocation of funds, where they need not bother themselves about anyone except their own States and where they do not really know much about the area of the others. These members in the Standing Committee and the ESI Corporation have voting rights. The resolutions passed by these Bodies are shown to have been passed with their approval too. Their silence gives room to declare that every resolution was passed with majority support. Nobody has barred them from voicing their opinion as members of the Standing Committee or ESIC on any issue placed before them on the Agenda. Yet, they maintain silence, presuming that it was courtesy. But, it is really indifference. Likewise, many representatives of employers and employees too do not bestow adequate attention to details. The Bureaucrats Vs. Political leaders episodes of the serial ‘Yes, Minister’ are re-enacted on many occasions.”
“I am simply surprised. How does it happen?”
“I am also puzzled. But, they do happen. Please take the issue of I.T. Roll-out. Every department that wants to computerise its activities starts it only as a pilot project in a small area. That way the trials and errors would not affect the routine of the organisation even for a single day. Take for example, the Railways. Did they stop any train even for a single day, to computerise their activities? But, in the ESIC the inspection work and the work in many other areas came to a standstill for long, even for the preparation and supply of Identity Card. Did anyone assess the cost-benefit ratio of this kind of approach, as this work was done simultaneously throughout the nation. So many wrong orders were issued affecting not only the office work but also the insured persons and their family members for the photo sessions. Yet,these ID cards have not become fully functional. These cards must prevent duplication, in the ideal situation. But, that ideal situation has not yet come, in spite of the passage of more than four years. The finger prints and the other bio-metric data are not used for de-duplication process. Employers and Employees have found various methods to circumvent the System. The mounds and mounds of ID cards returned undelivered speak volumes of the flaw in the planning. If only there had been pilot project, the damage would have been limited only to a small area. You know, I have, so far, told you only about the ID card matter. I have not told you anything about the defect in the System in preparing Payment Dockets in the Branch Offices or processing the Inspection Report in the Insurance Branches, or others.”
“Mr. Adharkar, you, surely, have reason to feel worried. But, it does not matter much, I think. After all, you can dump the I.T. Roll-Out and go back to the time-tested manner in which your Scheme was functioning earlier with pen and paper. Take heart! Not much has been lost.”
“I agree with you Mr. Beveridge. The Airforce of the USA provides a precedent in this regard. I saw one article titled ‘BOOTS or COTS’ in this regard in the website ‘flourishingesic.info’.’ But, the white elephants, the ESIC Medical Colleges worry me so much. The way the construction work was started even before the Parliament amended the Act, the way Deans were appointed, the way money was spent, the way some projects were abandoned midway, the way the authorities have been left to wonder now, how to make use of the buildings constructed for the abandoned Medical Colleges are really making me apprehensive.”
Mr. Adharkar continued. “While formulating the ESI Scheme, I had, very consciously, specified eleven Fundamental Principles. They are, in fact, sound directive principles to be kept in view by the Government not only for any social security measure to be introduced through the ESI Scheme but also on any labour-welfare related matter. One of the Fundamental Principles is that the proposed scheme “must not be too ambitious in the beginning”. But, this fundamental thing has not been examined on record before starting I.T.Roll-Out all over the nation or before starting construction work for so many medical colleges.”
“I do understand. …(Looking off into the distance) Oh, you see there comes the trio, Mr. Wagner, Mr.Murray and Mr.Dingell, the architects of the Social Security Scheme in the USA. Let us hear them too.”
These three gentlemen arrive on the scene. They join the discussion after exchange of courtesies.
“It is not just these things”, continues Mr. Adharkar, “The way the Ministers wanted to interfere in the day-to-day administration of the autonomous body by influencing the transfers of officers is more worrisome. The evil effects of such interferences had been felt in the past and had been narrated in detail in the agenda for the Standing Committee in the year 2004. It was only Mr. Chandrasekar Rao who allowed the Rule of Law to prevail in the matter of transfer of officers. His period as Chairman of the ESI Corporation was short. But, it had a telling effect in establishing Rule of Law in the matters of transfer of officers. He said in the open meeting of the ESI Corporation that there would be no interference from the Minister or Ministry in the matter of transfer of officers and the Director General would, as the Team Leader, be free to decide the issues. The Transfer Policy assuring equality for all, was enforced thenceforth. But, as I said, his tenure was short. Again interference in the matter of transfers started. There became so many power-centres de facto. Such interference by the Ministers and other power-centres would sink the organisation and we can discuss about it in detail later”.
“Yes, yes. What you told, so far, appears to be only an introduction of various things that had taken place. The burden on the shoulders of the well-meaning administrators of the present to put things again in proper shape and perspective is just enormous. But, I feel not only worried but also tired just by hearing these things. Anyway, what about the financial aspects, especially with so many medical colleges? There would be heavy running costs without any income from these medical colleges. Was that issue analysed on file before the proposals were submitted? What would be the long term effect?”, said Mr. Beveridge.
At this moment, Mr. Wagner chipped in. “Friends, have you heard of a scheme in the USA started by one Mr. P….?”
(Continued in Episode 2.)