Leslie Sawhny Programme of Training for Democracy
PUBLIC SERVICE BY PRIVATE PERSONS
National Dairy Development Board
Anand 388 001
Shri JRD Tata, Chairman, Members of the Lesliae Sawhny Programme, honoured guests,
When Shri Minoo Masani first sounded me out informally about making this address, I of course felt greatly honoured to receive such an invitation and I, therefore, said that I would accept his invitation. A little later, when Shri Mansani wrote to me about it, I noted that his letter included a fairly strong hint that I should talk about “public service” – and, by implication, about my own work as a form of “Public service”.
My first reaction was that I should hastily reply that I am not at all a public servant. I am merely a professional manager, who happens to be employed by 8.6 lakh farmers. Then, fortunately, I thought about it a little more carefully – and I concluded that perhaps, after all, I am some kind of a public servant, and even, a rarely fortunate one, who has actually been permitted to serve.
What is public service?
After all, “public service” means no more than working for the benefit of society at large, rather than for any narrowly defined set of interested parties or persona. But I think there is more to public service than that. A public servant must work within the “rules” which his nation-state has established for the orderly pursuit of society’s goals. It follows at a public servant must work within the framework provided by national policies, as they evolve, and must mesh this work with the administrative structure whereby the country seeks to make national policies a reality.
In other words, the public servant renders unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s in order that he may render unto God-or whatever higher authority he may recognise – the things which are god’s. This task of working for the benefit of the public at large, while also adhering to the norms and policies which orderly government requires, is not an easy one. But I believe that it is necessary always to define public service in this contest, if only because public servants inevitably handle public assets, whether these may be in the form of buildings and equipment, moneys to be disbursed for good purposes, young people to be trained for the public benefit..... all these assets, which public servants’ handle, are in some sense a ‘national trust’ placed in the public servants’ hands-whether through a tax exempt charitable society of a tax-deductible rural development project... in each and every case, the public servant is responsible for proper deployment of public resources. If follows, therefore, that a public servant must deploy the resources placed in his charge according to the norms, policies and administrative framework established by the nation-state for such purposes.
How to find true public servants?
Where, in the case of our country, for example, do we find our public servants?
Do we find them in the private sector? Those who work for the private sector are duty-bound to serve their shareholders, while also to some extent looking after the interest of their workers, their suppliers and (in the interest of the company) their customers. Somehow, while serving these somewhat narrow interests, a private sector organisation must also pay its taxes to the Government of the day. Faced with these demanding and often conflicting interest-groups to be served, is it not impracticable to suggest that people working in the private sector should also be public servants (except, perhaps, in the sense of “What is good for General Motors, Coca Cola etc. Is good for the USA”, if you accept that dictum).
If public service is not practical within the private sector, may we then look for it in the public sector? Our experience indicates, I believe, that more often than not we may not. While there are honourable exceptions, it has increasingly been recognised that our public sector corporations, have often become monsters which feed upon the body politic, ravenously serving their own ends, rather than the public at large. Government is not only their share-holders, but also their master – and if their workers, suppliers and customers do come into the picture at all, it is their customers and suppliers who jointly serve their usually overstaffed cadres of managers and workers, rather than the other way round. In other words, the typical public corporation serves its own interest – and frequently the interests of its political masters. Moreover, when a public corporation does become a creature of the Minister, the secretary, or whoever, can one really blame power-holders who exploit them? Public sector Chairman may cry out in pain. Public sector chief executives may argue for “autonomy”. But when a maiden appears willing, can her seducer be blamed for taking advantage?
The fact of the matter is that in the private sector, the public sector – and our administrative and political structures – we do not always find true public servants, because so many who work there must observe and serve an ever narrowing constituency, so that ultimately their sole objective becomes the maintenance of the system, preservation of the status quo and of their increasing stream of perquisites and privileges which ultimately must be paid for from the public purse.
The form and content of contemporary public service
Yet all is not lost! People do perform public service – and an increasing number of our educated young people are motivated to do public service. But the form which it takes is dictated largely by the context in which it is performed. Public service is not an abstract generalisation. Nor is it simply a desire to do good (we all know what the path to hell is paved with).
The form of contemporary public service is dictated by its content. The content required of public service in our country today is clear:
First, the public servant has to find out how to put our modernising infrastructure to the service of the majority, rather than of the elite. The country has, at great social cost, erected the basic structure which a modern society requires: the infrastructure of education, research, communications and heavy industry. The public servants of today and tomorrow have to find out how to put this infrastructure to work for the benefit of the public at large.
Our basic problem is that relatively few people have an opportunity either to contribute to the modernising infrastructure or to benefit from its outputs. If half the boys and two-thirds of the girls in our villages cannot complete primary school, then the country is debarred from benefitting from the development of their brains – and they are debarred from even the possibility of entering our institutions of higher education and research. If half the power lines to our rural areas and 40 percent of the generating capacity are not working for most of the time, then what chance have people, working in villages on their own farms, of benefitting from our enormously expensive investments in electricity generation and distribution? No wonder the few rich farmers which this country has, collude with Electricity Board employees, in order to monopolise what little electric power may trickle erratically into our villages – and that, too, frequently without paying for it!
In any case, as long as the modernising infrastructure is commanded by the self-serving elite, how can a few, lone would be “public servants”, lost here and there within the system, be expected to flout the power structure and redirect our modernising infrastructure, so that the poor majority gets access to its benefits? Our institutional structures seldom give, would be public servants, a chance – especially the young people whose ideals are so often crushed by “the system”.
This cannot be changed unless we put right the imbalances between the urban and rural sectors, unless we reverse the flow of funds and of talents from rural to urban areas. We all know that this has to be done, if only because our country cannot in the near future become one where the majority is “ urbanised” in the western sense of that word. Indeed, such a prospect conjures up nightmarish visions of one mega-city stretching from Calcutta to Madras and another mega-city stretching from Delhi to Bombay, with vast stretches of depopulated waste land between these two teeming, dirty crime ridden mega cities. To avoid such a nightmare, the public servants of today and tomorrow must seek instead to make life worth living and self fulfilling for the majority of our citizens who live off the land—and who now must be enabled to live well off the land.
This means that we, the elite, must take our courage in both hands and look upon our vast rural population, not as a liability, but as an asset. If we can then enable our public servants to put the instruments of productivity into our rural people’s hands, this India will become the word’s breadbasket. This is the main task facing the young public servants of today and tomorrow – and they know well that this task has to be tackled at the grass-roots levels.
Comprehensive rural development : the first steps
In fact, there is a lot of talk these days about ‘working at grass-roots levels”, but when one considers that what we are talking about is development at the ‘the grassroots’ of 560000 villages, one is bound to realise that these generalisation about grass-roots are unlikely to lead to any practical solution. But we have had before us, for several decades now, some practical examples of how e can, at least, start to tackle the task. Allow me to take the example with which I am most familiar: that is the example of our milk cooperatives. These cooperatives have several characteristics which have led to their not inconsiderable success:
They are cooperative which deal with a single commodity. This means that their management, their technical personnel and their entire energies can focus upon one major task: namely, putting the processing and marketing of their members’ milk into their members’ own hands, while also providing to their members the inputs which they need to increase their milk production and productivity. It is this single commodity focus which enables these cooperatives to concentrate on a single set of well integrated tasks.
This cooperative structure enables the milk producers to recruit, through their cooperatives, their own professional managers, dairy technologists, veterinary doctors, animal breeding specialists etc.. and these professionals know whom they are serving: they are serving the milk producers who have hired them through their cooperatives.
The milk producers know also that they have every right to demand high standards of professionalism, integrity and commitment from their cooperatives’ professional managers and technicians. Unlike the government veterinary doctor, the cooperative veterinary doctor is expected to be present in the village on schedule. Unlike the Government dairy, the cooperative dairy cannot make deals with private contractors and tell producers that their milk was sour or diluted, when that is not the case. In other words, when we put the business of processing and marketing rural people’s produce into the hands of the very people who produce it, then, and only then, rural people can demand that their produce shall be processed and marketed efficiently and that they, the producers, shall get a fair share of the rupee paid by consumers for their produce.
We have seen that this can be done by the dairy cooperatives. During Operation Flood, over the last decade, the number of village milk producers’ cooperatives has risen from 1500 to over 12000 : 12000 village cooperatives serving some 1.3 million milk producers and their families. That is a rural population of some 6-8 million.
Nor is this form of rural development confined any longer to milk alone. Already, the Anand Pattern of Cooperative is being applied to restructuring the oilseeds and vegetable oils sector – and plants are being made to extend Anand pattern cooperatives coverage to cotton, fruits, vegetables and fish.
Now, we all know, there is more to life than milk, oilseeds cotton, or whatever. The single commodity cooperative is certainly, only a first step toward comprehensive rural development, but it is, I submit, the most important step. For what are we really doing, when we enable the milk producers in a village to learn that they can command the services of professional managers and technically qualified staff? What we are really doing is to use the example of milk, oilsees, or whatever, to give the producers, the farmers, a practical experience of coming together in order to tackle their own problems and to obtain command over professional skills they need, in order to get control over the process of development, right in their own village.
Once the producers see that they can do this, they realise that the same structure can be used to enable them to obtain social services, such as maternal and infant health-care, environmental sanitation, organised employment for rural youth, access to decision making for women the whole gamut of developmental activities in fact, about which so much is talked, all of which are the business of the public servant.
Today’s public servant’s roots; the villages
Does it not, therefore, follow that the public servant of today and tomorrow must be the employee-and, indeed, the servant – of the farmers themselves? That, quite frankly, is the lesson which I have learned (more by luck than good judgement) during my 30 years of work as a professional manager who is paid by farmers to serve them.
I often find that people take it lightly that I should be the paid Chairman-cum-managing Director of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, while I am the honorary Chairman of the Indian Dairy Corporation and the national Dairy Development board.
In other words, I have so far not taken that apple of Delhi’s Garden of Eden: the symbolic rupee per year which makes the would be public servant a servant of Government also.
This does not mean that I have ‘pulled a fast one’ on successive Governments of India down all these years! On the contrary, successive Governments have known very well the concept of public service which I have pursued. It is no secret that when the national Dairy Development Board was formed, when Shastriji was our Prime Minister, he naturally expected to have the NDDB set up in Delhi. Then I explained to him that I was a servant of farmers and that the NDDB had to work for and serve all farmers and that the best way to assure this was to put the NDDB in Anand, which is the heart of our dairy cooperative structure. Then and only then could we be sure that the NDDB would be sensitive to farmers’ need responsive to their demands, aware of what is rural poverty and not screened from rural realities by the mad rush of urban consumerism, by the intrigue which dominate the corridors of power – and by the cocktail party circuit which substitutes for society in our pseudo western urbanised wastelands. When I explained this to Shastriji, he at once saw the logic of it and agreed that the NDDB should be at Anand. He also saw that it would be appropriate that the chairman of the national Dairy Development Board should be paid by farmers, that he remains a farmers’ employee, not a Government employee. And that is how I came to be the honorary Chairman of the Indian Dairy Corporation and the national Dairy Development Board and the paid Chairman cum Managing Director of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk marketing Federation. I saw recently in the press that a certain multinational food marketing organisation was making proud claims that its Indian subsidiary had diffused its ownership among its 81,000 Indian shareholders.... Well, our Federation is admittedly only half their size we market a mere Rs.150 crores of our milk producers’ products annually – but we serve 860000 milk producers, who are our shareholders.
It was this vast and intensive farmer-participation which enthused Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri about our work at Anand, as it had the great Pandit Nehru before him and successive governments since his time, which have wholeheartedly supported us in our work.
And it is thanks to that support that we have been able to get down to the true business which concerns public service today. What is that business? It is no more than, bringing together the human and material resources which are required to pump the instruments of increased productivity into our villages. It is the organisation of milk procurement in 1000 villages at a time. It is the organisation of veterinary services, artificial insemination services and extension services in 1000 villages at a time. It is the tapping of our R&D institutions, the testing of the results of R & D: it is the bringing of scientists into contact with the farmers and vice versa. It is above all the bringing up of committed young people, young graduates – and enabling them to learn what it is to be a professional – and to be a true “public servant” which is what so many of them aspire to.
Young people, especially, appreciate that practical public service is the bringing of integrity and order into the development system. Integrity and commitment start at the top. You cannot be the servant of grasping politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, greedy middlemen to black-money dealers, while still retaining the trust and respect of those you work with, be they farmers, fellow managers, or professionals and technical cadres.
The Right to Serve
It is at this juncture that we arrive at a paradox. If the public servant of today and tomorrow is not to be the creature of vested interest, black money merchants and the rest of our crumbling power structure – then can that same public servant also be expected to “go along with” what he knows to be a rotten system? Should he be expected to pander to wielders of “influence”? Is there any reason why those who serve only their own interest should receive servility from those who seek to serve the public interest?
Surely, at the very least, a true public servant deserves the “tight to serve”?
At present, anyone who seeks to serve the public has to fight petty bureaucrats and politicians, self styled “farmers’ leaders” and private sector “industrialists” many of who, if they are industrialists at all, are there by accident of birth and history, rather than merit. . so many of them are yesterday’s merchants, wrapped in the trappings of modern industry, but whole main principle of business is still the merchant’s principle: “ to buy low and sell high”. They seek traders’ margins, rather than margins which are earned out of efficiency and service to suppliers, workers and customers.
Again, no doubt we could all come up with the names of some noble exceptions. But I must say that I speak from extensive and disillusioning experience. For a long time, my own work was concentrated on serving milk producers as a professional manager and thereby being responsible for helping the milk producers to erect a modern dairy industry. And as long as I stuck to the milk business, I was pretty well left alone, except for a few mud-slingings from time to time.
Then, at the instance of the government of India, I and my colleagues at Anand turned our attention first to cotton and then to the oilseeds and vegetable oils industry. Now, when we first came to cotton, it happened that, at about that time, textile mills were required by the government to publish in their annual reports the price which they had paid for different qualities of cotton. It happened also that the Gujarat Cotton Cooperatives already owned and operated several cotton gins and were handling a sizeable proportion of Gujarat’s cotton production.
And when we compared the prices received by the cooperative gins for a given quality of cotton with the prices shown as paid by the textile mills for the same quality, we found that approximately 25 percent of the textile mill’s price had somehow disappeared between the time when that cotton left the cooperative gin and the time when it reached the textile mill! In other words, these textile mills many of which as you know have for a long with been “falling sick” under the expert management of the rich. India is already among the ten largest industrial powers. India already is reckoned to be sixth in the production of skilled technical and managerial personnel. India is a large land-mass, with the second largest human population-and the potential for becoming a dominant producer of sun-hungry crops.
In other words, whether we like it or not, we are becoming a powerful country. Power concentrate in the hands of a few is always dangerous. One can never be sure that it will not one day be abused.
As long as a narrowly based, self-serving elite seeks to retain its hold over power in our country, how can we or the world at large be sure that power will not be abused? It follows that power in our country must be diffused: it must be spread out more evenly among our majority, which is still largely the rural poor. And that majority must obtain practice in the collective exercise of power. Enabling the rural poor to get that practice is the first and most imperative task of today’s and tomorrow’s public servants in our country.
Creating opportunities in our villages for the poor majority to find out what it means to command the instruments of development is not easy. It is not a process which goes smoothly. People do sometimes choose leaders unwisely especially before they have had time to realise that their vote really does count- and that, for example, in a cooperative, the principle of “one man (or one woman) one vote” really does operate.... Until they have realised that, they will sometimes choose unwisely. But they soon observe the results of their unwiseness: when they see their elected representative or their appointed manager lining his pocket at their expense, they are not slow to take remedial action! The public servant of today and tomorrow is one who helps to speed up this process, one who enthuses the rural poor with the prospect of commanding the instruments of development-and using those instruments to make their families viable, their fields productive and their villages good places to live in. This is primarily a job for the young! What we oldsters have to do is to set things right, so that our young public servants can operate with decency, decorum and dedication. There are plenty of such potential public servants coming up, among the ranks of our educated and committed young people. All they ask of us, the elite, is the right of private person to serve the public cause.