It was 1990. A woman employee of the Bureau of Indian Standards reached the bus stop at about 7.45 am in Noida Sector 22. Her neighbour, a Section Officer of the ESIC, was standing there already, waiting for bus to go to his office. The offices of both were and are in the same locality, in New Delhi-2.
That ESIC officer, a man from Orissa, was a very sincere and punctual officer. He was very surprised to see that woman employee of the BIS at that time of the day there. He asked her where she was going. She replied that she was going to her office. That reply stumped the ESIC officer. “Madam, how come, so early? You used to move for office only at about 11 am everyday!”. That woman poured out her grievance. “What to do, Sir? One man has come to our office as DG. He is from military. Totally merciless. He is marking our absence and debiting our leave accounts everyday. How much can I lose? It is very difficult for me to go to office so early. Still, I have to go…..”. She went on justifying her priorities and scolding the new unsympathetic Director General stating that he did not understand the problem of womenfolk who had to look after all the house-hold chores.
Yes. The BIS got Lt. Gen. H. Lal, a Param Vishisht Seva Medalist, as its Director General. He studied, for a few days, the situation prevailing in the BIS and diagnosed the problem. He chalked out his own plan to bring standard to the Bureau of Indian Standards.
The PVSM with perseverance
He did not announce anything to anyone. He simply went around the office one morning, 15 minutes after the commencement of office hours, and collected all the attendance registers from every section in person. He marked the absence of everyone very coolly and sent the attendance register back. The first day there was shock, utter shock among the members on the Staff. The second day their shock continued. The third day, the Union represented, through other officers, for ignoring this ‘minor issue’. But, the military man said that it was not a minor issue. He said, “You are paid for your presence as well as work, here in this organisation. I am not asking you to work. I just ask you to be present during the working hours. There is no concession on this score”. He was very firm. He demonstrated his firmness even more when the Union chose to demonstrate its own power. He did not relent.
Attendance Registers were continued to be seen by him without any let up. He demonstrated his perseverance in a remarkable manner. By the end of the first month, the staff members realised that they could not change the attitude of their DG. They had no other option but to change their own attitude. The second and third month, they tried to change their attitude. They took steps to manage their personal affairs in such a manner that they would be on time for office. The DG pressed on with the monitoring of attendance register for a continuous period of six months. Yes, it was true. By then, it became the habit for the employees of the BIS to reach the office in time, and to remain in the office upto 5.30 pm.
It was on the first day of his seventh month in office that Mr. Lal convened a meeting of officers and staff of every section separately and reviewed the work done by them. As sitting in the office had, already, been made a habit for the officials, it naturally showed up in their performance too. A remarkable attitudinal change, made possible in every employee, because of pressure not from within but from outside – from the boss.
Mr. Lal, a PVS Medalist, redeemed the BIS, really. He brought the BIS back on track, within a period of six months.
Mr. Sahib Singh Verma’s surprise visits
When Mr. Sahib Singh Verma was the Minister for Labour, he visited the offices under his Ministry at the commencement of office hours and closed the entrance door before verifying attendance. This had a dramatic effect on the punctuality in offices in New Delhi, including the offices of the ESIC. But, that is not the case with the other offices of the ESIC in the Regions. The need not only for punctuality and but also for service with a sense of compassion, devotion and outreach is felt more in the field offices and medical institutions of the ESIC.
The incident in the BIS does, therefore, have close relevance to the offices of the ESIC.
The employees of the ESIC grumble and assemble and resolve to agitate. But, they must know that they have to rise up and fight not against the rulers but against the impression prevailing among the insured population about the nature of service provided by the officers and staff members. Because, if someone like the Finance Minister could point out fingers against the ESIC and try to convince the public that the ESIC could be dispensed with, these employees cannot just blame the Minister for it. They have to blame themselves too. That there happened many things at the top in 2009 and 2010 might be true. But, the ignorance and arrogance of many employees of the ESIC at various other levels including the lower levels of the organisation were and are also the contributing factors to create a sense of apathy and antipathy among the beneficiaries against the ESIC.
When things went wrong in the BSNL, the employees’ unions and the officers associations assumed ownership of the organisation and started questioning the decision-making process. A new sense of commitment could be seen among the employees there. But, the employees unions and the officers associations of the ESIC choose to remain indifferent, although there is more reason for them to fight for the organisation and save it from the predators.
Beveridge, needed forever
ESIC is a well-conceived concept to reach out to the masses. The need for the ESIC , the social security measures provided by it, would be felt by the society as long as the world exists. A cursory reading of the report of Sir William Beveridge would testify to this fact. That is the reason his report, a charter to protect the humanity from the pains caused by undeserved wants, is called as a monumental document. Social Security has, throughout the world, achieved successfully what Communism could not achieve.
It gives an opportunity to the employees of the ESIC to make themselves useful to the humanity. But, the imperious behaviour demonstrated by the employees, coupled with their indifference, indolence and ignorance, when approached by the beneficiaries would result in creating very serious antagonism among the public. That situation is tailor-made to make it easier for the people like Mr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Modi to dump the ESIC and give noble impressions to their ignoble intentions to sell the nation to private players.
The employees of the ESIC stand warned. A precedent has already been created by the BJP regime by selling a government department to a rich businessman. VSNL, a profit-making body, was sold to Tatas. The rulers would, therefore, not wink an eye if the situation created by the employees of the ESIC help them to dump the ESIC in favour of private players by diluting its provisions.
If the role of ESIC in the nation-making is thus diluted, it will not be only because of the pro-rich attitude of Mr.Manmohan Singh and Mr. Modi but also because of the incorrigible attitude of many employees of the ESIC. It will be of no use to cry later without cultivating a little sense of happiness in doing real service to the people.
The Good and the Bad
There are many honest officers, sincere staff members at all levels, empathic doctors and nurses in the ESIC who provide yeoman service to the beneficiaries. But, the effect of their services pale into oblivion when contrasted with the multitude of self-seeking officials who do not care to be there in the organisation for rendering service to the public.
Yet, it becomes the duty of the honest officials also to fight against their colleagues who bring disrepute to the organisation. Because, the attitude of such blacksheep does affect, ultimately, the honest officials too. The sincere officials are required to hang their head in shame when the organisation is criticised for the wrongs committed by the mischievous.
The utterances of the Finance Minister on the day of Budget must awaken the blacksheep, at least now, to change their attitude. The honest employees of the ESIC at every level must fight against the dishonest among them with all seriousness it deserves.
ESIC employees must emulate Hannibal’s soldiers
When Hannibal had to fight his first battle with the fearsome Roman legions, multifold stronger in number, in Northern Italy, he had to bring his worn-out men alive. He told his frightened and diffident soldiers that they were many miles away from home, on hostile territory with nowhere to go. “It is either freedom or slavery; victory or death”. He advised his soldier to fight with all intensity and ferocity that they would win the mightier and stronger Roman army. Hannibal’s soldiers did so and won the Romans. (33 Strategies of War – Robert Greene).
Similar is the case today with the ESIC employees. Here is the opportunity for them to turn a new leaf and emulate the soldiers of Hannibal and work with devotion and compassion towards the beneficiaries that the beneficiaries themselves would realise the importance of the ESIC as a public organisation and resist the attempts of the rulers to dilute the beneficial provisos of the ESIC.
It is time for the ESIC employees to demonstrate their potentials. It is an opportunity for them to vindicate themselves. Will the ESIC employees sit up, take notice and rise up?