In no other country that I have visited, or lived in, is such inertia shown by the government in providing electric power to its citizens. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here — electricity was discovered more than a 100 years ago. Power generation is not rocket science nor is it intricate brain surgery. Lt Gen Prem Bhagat, my father, proved this in 1974 in Calcutta as Chairman of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC).
All it needed was political will, which he got from then Minister of Power KC Pant who backed his decisions and a drive to improve power generation. Unfortunately, he died just 10 months into his term as chairman but by then power production in DVC had risen twenty-fold. He used to say that DVC suffered from low morale, apathy, too much paperwork, and bureaucracy that literally tied it into knots and resulted in sheer neglect.
Recently, a book written by Major General VK Singh, titled ‘Leadership in the Indian Army’, describes some of the ways he went about it.
Singh writes, “With his characteristic vigour and no-nonsense approach, he (Prem) got the sluggish behemoth moving and soon the results were there for all to see. From 45 MW in August 1974, the production rose to 700 MW by October 1974, an increase of more than 15 times in just two months.”
He goes on to describe that on Bhagat’s very first visit to the office he wanted to be introduced to all the staff. One old man shook his hand and started crying. On asked why he was crying, he said that in all his years in DVC, this was the first time he had met the chairman. Soon he was visiting not only the power plants but also the homes of the employees to see what they needed. This led to a visible improvement in the amenities and living conditions of the employees.
On a visit to a power plant he realised that the very low productivity was due to the lack of spare parts. The file containing the requisition had been shuttling between various departments for six months. Bhagat got hold of the file and wrote, “Sanctioned” and signed his name below. “Now get on with it,” he said. He increased the financial powers of plant managers. At another plant, he found it unthinkable that replacements for generators would take six months to be shipped from Japan. He ordered that they should be flown across. The incredulous staff wondered at the cost. “Much less than the losses we are incurring due to a shortage of power,” said Bhagat.
Just before the Puja holidays in West Bengal, he heard that union leaders usually strike for bonus. He declared an 8 per cent bonus several months before and baffled the union. With much of the red tape removed and better working conditions, the morale went up in DVC. He once told me that the buck really stops at the top. One should not blame employees when the system is bogged down by bureaucracy. Change comes only from the top.
Is anyone listening?