Monday, 21 October 2019

Reforming road culture in India

By Prof. NK Singh
Updated: October 3, 2019 12:08 pm

When Minister for roadways announced the penalties of the new legislation on traffic offences there was a great din and even some states refused to honor it. No one thought it was the be all and end all of common public conduct on the roads which was absent totally in most of the urban areas in India. Apart from exhibiting courtesy or rudeness in public it is essential to follow the discipline to save lives of people who dies in the largest number of accidents in the country. Gadkari ji rightly said that objective is not to earn money by hefty fines but to deter the behavior that causes deaths. It is safety measure for the people on roads. No doubt one lac and seventy thousands deaths on the roads is a gigantic failure of road safety. When I worked for UN in about 12 countries I observed so much of chaos on our roads in contrast to full compliance of road rules even in remote roads of primitive countries of Africa.

What appears to be an ambitious clampdown on the road free for all style is not merely a police action to find and beat the uncontrolled behavior but it is change of culture which is not being appreciated by the critics. I observed in Africa that when a drive allowed another to have a pass, the obliging driver received a courteous nod from one who took over. More than courtesy it was a contribution to orderly traffic and smooth working.

When I wrote my book ‘Corporate Soul’ I had studied hundreds of organization in India and found the road to effective management was culture of credibility and trust. By building a culture of trust on the road we are contributing to change in attitude of drivers. It is suggested that the government should do massive training campaign to teach courtesy and rules of the traffic. Project delays this year itself cost 3.16 lakh crores and it was found to be mostly due to laid back slippages of targets. Flouting the road rules was like “chalta hai culture” that I pleaded in my book as the main cause of delays and inefficacy. Road discipline was main contributor to the poor productivity due to delays and accidents.

PM Modi, when he assumed office first time.  He showed clear signals of following a disciplined work culture by ordering every minister to be on time in the offices. Many politicians did not like this command as they were used to lay back attitude of meeting hanger on in the morning and slowly moving towards their offices. Some argued ‘ are we in school to be marked for attendance or to give results?’, All over the world a culture of precise functioning countered ‘the chalta hai soft work culture’. First time I went to Japan I was impressed to see groups of young men and women dressed in same formal manner moving in time to their offices as if they are fighting war. Computer and technology taught us how we need to work in details and precisely as per laid down regime. Taught us a lost on how to function precisely, If a full stop or a comma was wrongly placed the mail bounced.

The question of quantum of penalties remains debatable.  Already half of the states have either modified or refused to follow the penalties prescribed in the law. No doubt heavy penalities were badly needed as with the increase of income and rampant corruption present penalties were in adequate. The penalties need some kind of rationalization. For example over speeding may be serious but someone missing the belt on rear seat may not be serious. A truck driver is fined in lakhs for lack of document or a student burning the bike for the penalty was half of bike,s cost . Such situations need a re look at the penalties and the manner of imposition.No doubt violation must attract high penalty but seriousness must be weighed. In japan Air India officials were so mortally afraid that they refused to even touch a drink in lunch hosted by Japanese as they were afraid o f being hauled up if they go with alcohol on a highway. In Slovenia a Professor who was also adviser of he PM was stopped and challaned. Professor was so frightened that he could not enjoy a lunch later. He told me that if he is caught next time over speeding on high way his license will be withdrawn. When I told him that he could have easily invoked PM office, he shuddered and said no one will come to help in violation of law.

By Prof. NK Singh

(The writer is International Management Adviser)

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