Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A New Dawn

Heard this one before?

A former chief minister of Bihar was hosting a Japanese Delegation for Business Development to Bihar.

The Japanese Emissary was quite impressed with Bihar and he stated, "Bihar is an excellent state. Give us three years and we will turn it into an economic superpower like Japan."

The CM was very surprised. "You Japanese are very inepicient," he stated. "Give me three days and I will turn Japan into the next Bihar!"

The joke must have made you laughe out loud or at least got you to smile but secretly, I know you cringed (I did!). Well here's something that will make you smile with pride (I guarantee that) I got this as a forward today and absolutely loved this story - here's celebrating the real India Shining!

Bihar's bridges, way to a new work culture

In a state dreaded for its work culture environment and record of poor public entrepreneurship, the Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam, which was on the verge of being liquidated, has now turned the corner and built over 330 bridges in three years. Ramesh Menon chronicles the inspiring journey.

If you want to see the new change in Bihar , walk into the office of the Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam or the Bihar State Bridge Construction Corporation Limited. It is a sleek office, well kept and clean, has a committee room and a visitor’s lounge and even a gym. But that is just the icing on the cake. What should catch your attention are the statistics of the work done.

The corporation has in the last three years constructed more bridges than Bihar did in the last 30 years! Since 1975, the corporation had constructed 330 bridges. In three years, 336 bridges have been inaugurated. In fact, on 11th June, Chief Minister Nitesh Kumar inaugurated 140 bridges in one symbolic gesture in Patna .

Today, this government company is the biggest taxpayer in eastern India . When the Kosi floods struck, it made a contribution of Rs. 20 crore to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. Reliance was the second biggest contributor: Rs. 9 crore.

How was this possible? Was this not supposed to be a state where in stereotyped public perception, nothing ever moved, sanctioned projects abandoned and funds siphoned off by government officials and contractors? But look at the working of this arm of the new Bihar government and you will see how with some determination and focus even comatose government companies could rise and flourish.

When Pratyaya Amrit (Picture: India Today - Click on the picture to read the India Today Story), a 1991 batch IAS officer was called to Patna in April 2006 from New Delhi by the new Nitish Kumar government to take over as chairman of the corporation, he had mixed feelings. He was getting used to being a bureaucrat in Delhi and wondered what the move meant. He was the personal secretary to Civil Aviation Minister, Praful Patel. The first feeling when he walked into his office complex at Patna , was nauseating. The office was dirty and unkempt. Files were carelessly thrown around, cakes of dust everywhere, the floor cracked, furniture broken and doors and windows in a bad shape. The morale of employees was at an all time low and the only thing they worried about was whether the loss-making corporation would be shut down. Salaries were not being paid on time. In fact, the former government of Rabri Devi had initiated steps to liquidate the loss-making corporation.

Amrit found his room was no better. One senior IAS officer who came to wish him well was so shocked at the state of his room that he asked him if he could help him to try and get him a better posting. “At that point of time, I told myself that one gets a couple of opportunities in your career and when it comes you must take the bull by the horn.” says Pratyaya Amrit. For him, this was the moment.

One of the first things he did was to order a clean up of the office as it was vital to create a new atmosphere. Then, he took off on his first field visit to Katunjha in Sitamarhi to inspect the work there. He could not believe what he saw. Very little work had been done on a bridge though it had been sanctioned 15 years ago. First move: He got the engineer transferred for non-performance. Second move: At the site, he announced the date for the bridge’s inauguration.

Officials accompanying him were too shocked to react. They wondered how it could be completed so fast. He warned that serious consequences would follow if the deadline were not met. As planned, the bridge was inaugurated on 19th April 2007. One thing was clear to the chairman of the corporation: He had a staff that could deliver if they had deadlines. The Katunjha Bridge changed so many things. Floods cut off Sitamarhi district almost six months a year. It used to take around 13 hours to reach Patna . Now with the bridge in operation, it takes about three and a half hours. “In many ways, Katunjha was a turning point in the life of the corporation as engineers believed they could do what seems impossible,” says Amrit.

His second site visit was to Arrah. This was another astounding shock. Here, the bridge was completed but it could not be used, as there were no approach roads connecting it. The bridge just stood there. “I could not believe what I saw,” he said. He was so angry that he transferred the junior engineer who was posted there. He had worked there for 27 years. He ordered for roads to be made after fixing a deadline: October 2006, even earlier that the deadline he had given for the Katunjha bridge.

Bhakra Nala Bridge, Saharsa.
(Pic: Bihar Bridge Construction Corporation Limited.)

Rewarding the hard working

He got Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to inaugurate both the bridges. It was to send a message that he meant serious business and deadlines had to be met. The Chief Minister was so glad to see the Katunjha bridge completed in such a short span that he gave the 46-year-old engineer in charge, Sunil Kumar, a free ticket to Singapore and back.

The message sunk. Good work has a value now. He is not the only one. Six other engineers have been similarly rewarded with foreign holidays for the speedy work they have executed and 11 others have been given cash rewards of Rs. 20,000 each. This was unthinkable for any government employee in Bihar till now. “It is very important to reward those who work hard as it is one way to tell them that we respect their professionalism,” says Pratyaya Amrit.

Seeing the rapid progress of the corporation, the Chief Minister gave it Rs. 1132 crore asking it to build an additional 520 bridges under the Mukhya Mantri Setu Nirman Yojana. Says Pratyaya Amrit: “The Chief Minister gave the corporation a lifeline when he gave us this ambitious project.” But when he called a meeting of his engineers and announced it, there was skepticism. Though they were happy to be trusted with such a massive job, they wondered if they would ever find adequate equipment, material, manpower, consultants, engineers and designers. As they were racing against time, Pratyaya Amrit outsourced consultants to prepare project reports so that work could be started. It started work in April 2007 and till date, 294 have been completed.

June 11th was the foundation day of the corporation and the Chairman got the CM to inaugurate 140 bridges all over Bihar in one symbolic action, as he wanted it to be a morale booster for the employees who three years ago thought they were going to be retrenched. By April next year, the corporation is planning to have finished 440 bridges. Says Pratyaya Amrit: “I realised that employees are willing to work hard. All they need is a right opportunity and direction. It is our employees who were earlier looked down upon who are now the pride of Bihar .”
Profits keep rising

During the last three years, 336 high level bridges have been constructed at an estimated cost of Rs. 708.48 crores. The corporation is presently implementing as many as 520 projects under the Mukhya Mantri Setu Nirman Yojna, at an estimated cost of Rs. 1,132 crores. Of them, 251 have already been completed costing Rs. 302.40 crores. It is working on eight over-bridges costing about Rs. 306.61 crores and 45 major road projects at an estimated cost of Rs. 438.00 crores. In 2004-05, the annual turnover in terms of work execution was Rs. 57.38 crore. In 2008-09, it has risen to Rs. 768 crore.

The corporation had an accumulated loss of Rs. 17 crore when Pratyaya Amrit took over. Today, three years later, it has shown a profit of Rs. 83.80 crore. The corporation has 100 percent funding from the government but on every project it charges nine percent of the total cost as centage. The concept of centage is approved by the government as the corporation has its own expenses to keep it going. Earlier it had a loss of Rs.17 crore, but now the increased earnings from the centage have helped it wipe out the deficit and register a surplus.
Nitish Kumar now has asked them to take on projects like road construction. Other government departments are now wooing the contractor who did up the corporation office wanting their offices to be redesigned. Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi hopes that the corporation would be a model for other organisations in Bihar to restructure and reinvent itself.

Bridges make life easier
Bridges are the lifelines of Bihar . Out of 38 districts, 28 are flood prone and get cut off if there are no bridges. But apart from this reality, Bihar is also seeing that if there are proper connections, it could start impacting the economy in a positive way as it will attract investors to the land that once was untouchable.

After the bridge came up in Sitamarhi, the real estate prices have gone up. Even in Patna , decongestion due to flyovers has made real estate prices shoot up in those areas. For example, because of the Kankarbagh flyover, flats of 1700 square feet cost between Rs. 40-55 lakh. Three years ago, it was around Rs. 15 lakh. Encouraged, the corporation proposes to get a study done on the socio impact of the bridges.

Tacking corruption, reforms and motivating results What about corruption and mafia? Amrit says that when he took over there was nothing called 'good contractors'. He then introduced a system of registration of contractors and told them that they could hire equipment and personnel but both had to be seen on the site the day the work started. "We had a transparent system and picked the contractors on merit through open tenders. We even got banks to finance them and ensured they were paid on time", he says. There was not a single threat or exhortation and there were a couple of instances were there where some of the mafia misbehaved with contractors, he admits, but adds that the corporation immediately got them arrested and so the message went out loud and clear.

"Good contractors stuck to us as they saw a great opportunity. I met each contractor to review the work on a regular basis. We blacklisted as many as 40 contractors and debarred 84 contractors for not completing the work in time. Fines of Rs.4.5 crores were collected from contractors. That created a certain work culture and discipline,” he adds.

Chirayantad Overbridge, Patna.
(Pic: BBCCL.)

The corporation, which has a Wifi campus, is the only company in Bihar , which has got ISO 9001 and 14001 certification. The corporation’s slogan is: We build bridges of confidence. Efforts are on to beat deadlines now. A RCC bridge in Belwa Tengarmarhi in Kishanganj district of 252 meters is slated to be completed much before the deadline of 31st March 2011.

Amrit also introduced a number of the operation-level reforms on the ground to make things work. Engineers had no vehicles. He outsourced SUV’s for them so as to help them go around for frequent inspections and gave them an allowance of Rs. 18,000 as maintenance.

He introduced the Closed User Group of BSNL so all officials were networked by phones with four digit numbers. It led to better and faster communication.

He introduced the “Mobile Inspector” system where all Executive Engineers have a GPRS enabled sim card in their phones. They can go to the site, photograph the bridge, take out their pencil stylus and fill in details like the name of the bridge, its location and status. It is then directly sent to the chairman who sees it on his computer in his office. Everyday, the Chairman monitors the progress. There is a new sense of accountability.
The record room that was in a mess is now orderly with files neatly tied in bundles waiting for being microfilmed. A room that was used as a dumping place for unwanted material is now a library. The office is still in the old traditional building but now the corporation wants to build what it calls, Setu Bhawan, which will be Bihar ’s first green building.

To create team spirit, all festivals were celebrated among employees. Free medical camps, yoga camps and Art of Living camps were held.

“Different people get motivated by different things. I pulled every lever I could. Each of these helped in different ways to motivate employees and give them a feeling of being in a family with a focused work culture,” says Amrit.

The road ahead for the corporation as he sees it, is to now compete nationally to do projects outside Bihar . With its newfound confidence, it wants to grow bigger and larger to ensure that its employees get all the benefits, as it is teamwork that has got it from a company under liquidation to a company that is heralding a new Bihar .