The two shocking cases of unethical practices linked to ‘profiteering’ reported from two topmost hospitals in India’s capital, known for foreign investment and high end infrastructure, reflect on an environ in which corporate businesses are looking at India merely as a market to be exploited for money making. Earlier, there were two cases of employees of top airlines in India treating their passengers like dirt just because the supply and demand cut in favour of the airline business in a fast developing economy that saw an increasing number of middle class Indians taking to air travel for better connectivity. And before that two revealing cases of cold blooded murder of a 7-year old boy and the rape of a girl child in the premises of two prominent expensive schools around Delhi, brought out the management’s total neglect of the responsibility these educational institutions had of ensuring the safety of children while they were in the schools. The desire to make profits out of this crass commercialisation of children’s education – just because there were enough families churning out of India’s growth willing to pay disproportionately to the businesses behind these elite institutions – once again saw them overriding any fear of scrutiny by the concerned authorities.
And this throws up the question as to how could such fragrant misdemeanours occur, one after the other, in the vital sectors of health, aviation and education – and be permitted to damage the national image of India. What are the mechanisms created by the democratic state to protect citizens from predatory approaches of organised business? While some sort of enquiries are said to have been initiated by the authorities in a couple of these incidents, informed citizens are yet to feel convinced that the Indian state has taken these serious violations of norms as a wake up call for the future. While in our constitutional scheme of things many responsibilities towards the citizens lie on the turf of state and local administrations it is time Centre found ways and means of creating a deterrence through its monitoring agencies for the businesses that ran on government licenses but indulged in unethical practices. It was pathetic to find bodies like IMA, DGCA and CBSE not feeling indignant enough and at best coming out with apologetic responses bordering on a defence of the perpetrators.
Three reasons could possibly be there behind all of this, inefficiency or collusion of the authorised monitoring bodies with the concerned ‘businesses’ because of influence or sheer corruption, continuing operation of politician-bureaucrat-offender nexus, and unwillingness of those handling judicial process, that often begins with the police to bell the cat when they knew this could as well be done without. A turn around has to be made and the Centre has to play its part in this.
First, it should be mandated that punitive process- other than a mere transfer - would be started within 48 hours against the culprits on the spot and their immediate ‘supervisors’ in the concerned organisation, whenever a serious case of neglect or unethical conduct towards the public is reported against a business entity operating in the service sector. A deeper enquiry into the systemic flaws that were there in the backdrop can follow at a higher administrative level of the government but the immediate part of response must not be compromised or diluted.
Secondly, there is a blatant lack of supervision - which has a cause and effect relationship with corruption - in all government supported public services and something has to be done about it. The Modi regime should give a call for effective and accountable supervision everywhere and make it an integral part of its agenda of governance. It has already brought about a transformational change in the way Ministries function and inter-ministerial coordination is carried out to make the government at the centre more productive and cost effective.
Thirdly, the Centre should promote the universally accepted principle that the top man in the enterprise must lend his authority for the enforcement of business ethics and security protocols. At least a few top private business houses in the country have established nodal points at the level of director, for the function of overseeing corporate ethics and security. This should be emulated in the public sector enterprises as also in those organisations that have an interface with people for providing service in such areas as health, communications and education under the state authorisation. The learning is that standards of performance of all such establishments – whether in government or outside of it – must be linked to the evaluation of the chief of that entity.
The Modi regime is seeing to it that profits are made using only white money and that the fees charged by an establishment for any public service are within the concerned regulatory laws. An impression has traversed across all businesses that in a liberalised economy the early entrants into the market can set their own profit lines during the period when competition did not exist. What has encouraged this practice is the reality that many politicians had invested their money - legitimate or unaccounted - into high-end educational and medical establishments for purely commercial motives and set off a trend of giving them immunity in regard to unethical business practices. The government has to find a way of tightening the screw on them.
India under Prime Minister Modi has achieved remarkable success in winning over the opinion of the international community for its efforts to ensure economic progress at home and further the cause of peace in the world at large. Domestic governance is the area however, where a lot of work is still to be done because the overhang of the past was strong and systems in place would not easily submit to reform. The Prime Minister must get the ministers to complete the performance audit of institutions of health, education, communications and other establishments - public or private - under their oversight that were giving services to the people, directly. They should - within a time frame - strengthen the rules of ethics wherever required. Prime Minister has no fear of anti-incumbency in regard to his own position but the same cannot be said of his colleagues in the council of ministers and this is reason enough for him to drive them to produce results in the matter of elimination of corrupt and unethical practices from the public service institutions under their control.
(The writer is a former director of IB)