Got a call last night from one of the bidders for the Delhi/Bombay airport modernisation projects. He sounded pretty miffed that their bid had not been considered. Now, bidding processes are supposed to be simple and straight. So that the winner and loser both know why they got it or didn't. Clearly not in this case as this insightful Indian Express article explains.

Meanwhile, workers and staff of the Airport Authority of India believe its their god-given right to run airports. Despite the Government deciding to award the airport modernisation to private bidders (after bidding) AAI workers went on strike this morning..and got lathi charged for their efforts in Mumbai. So, the message here is: the Government's decision and the debates for all these years on this issue do not matter. By extension the Government or state does not.

The private bidders on the other hand want to take the Government to court as well. Dark threats have already been made. Unlike the AAI workers, they have put in some effort. To put together an airport consortium costs money. Bharti of Delhi which tied up with Changi Airport of Singapore to bid for the modernisation and dropped out spent several million dollars putting the bid together. Not to mention management time. So must have the rest. And naturally, if there is the slightest lack of clarity, they want to protest.

Who Cares For Government ?

For the institution called the Government of India, this is another telling blow. No one cares, respects or wants to heed what the Government desires. The Government itslef is divided and split, left to right and top to bottom. In any company, if a board takes a decision on a matter, the decision holds. In India, a cabinet decision or even a prime ministerial directive can be challenged endlessly. With the ultimate objective of inaction, rather than action.

It is in this context that India's Davos drama (as I would like to call it !) looks even more pathetic and sad. A writer who left a comment said he was at Davos. He went on to say that there was huge involvement by India. There was Mukesh Ambani there. And others. He said I called it unncesssary PR (he should read a little more carefully because I didn't !) and then went on to describe how this event would divert attention to the great opportunity that is India.

My friend missed the point by miles. He is absolutely right about the India effort. Like one said earlier, credit goes to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and others for putting together a good show. And the Government for working with CII and the rest. But he (like many others) fail to realise that this is no good if a foreign investor flies to this land of great opportunity and encounters a half-shut airport. On the grounds that 15 years after liberalisation, we cannot achieve consensus on who should renovate a building.

Matching Product With Sales Pitch

Imagine visiting India this week, after watching the heavy duty pitches at Davos. Only to be greeted with police pickets at the airports. And be told by at least six major, global, airport companies that the Indian Government cannot get a simple bidding process right. Or keep antiquated unions who cannot spell the word service and have not heard of the concept of a customer, under check. Of course there are reasons but the bottomline is this: The Government neither got the process right nor could shut the unions up. And considering that this is 2006, not 1991, its shameful.

So, do we stop crowing at Davos. Of course not, in case my friend and others misunderstand me again. Of course we talk about opportunities. But we perhaps work more trying to sort out things with our government and the people who constitute it.
Our industrialists are notoriously silent when it comes to taking on government or putting their foot down. They still suffer from a pre-1990 license raj-induced fear psychosis.

The truth is unfortunately like this. If you got your airports and infrastructure right, you don't have to go to Davos. Its good to be there, but not the end of the world if you can't. India is too big a market and the opportunity too great, with or without Shiamak Davar and his troupe. People will come to you, like they come to China. As they say, any sales pitch has to be backed by good product and R&D. Else, your sales guys will be stoned the next time they go to the market !

By the way, if you couldn't make it to Davos, think about the air-fare you saved. Even better, think about the misery that you didn't have to face, in transiting through our airports once again.


Anonymous said…
Bravo, Govind! Well-written though I disagree with your analogy of our government and the board of a company. India after all is a democracy and we are all free to voice our opinions unlike employees in a company. So, the airline union is free to voice its dissent but it’s illegal to take so many people who depend on the airlines as hostage just because they are unhappy with the situation. Believe me, my parents are going to be inconvenienced when they want to fly back to Bombay in a few days so I am not sympathizing with the union. A democracy calls for organized political parties, a rule of law and a professional free press. So let’s depend on our aging judicial system to get this right and our press to do their job. And thank you for your analysis and viewpoints because it has really changed the way I think!
Anonymous said…
Most of the problems of the public sector units stem not form the bottom (the ppl who are most likely to be retrenced) but from the top. The chairman of a PSU may stay there for 3 years. He is least bothered abt the next 25 years of his present company.

Is privatisation the answer. Definetely Not The chairman and the board has to be made responsible for the working of the company. and he remains in the chair as long as company runs properly. else he is just chucked out just like any other worker of a private company.
Anonymous said…
The government of india is not working as it should.

Shall we privatise the Government of India
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