Quality is something that we always seek from every product and service. India, being one of the major product manufacturers across different verticals and service providers, how good is India at maintaining quality?
Close to the Prime Minister launching the grand “Gati Shakti” programme came to this news item of the Delhi-Meerut Expressway literally collapsing in 35 places along the 14 kilometres stretch as rains hit North India. Built at a cost of Rs 8,340 crores, it was proudly inaugurated in April this year. After one round of the rains, NHAI did some quick patch-up work which could not take the second. A retired chief engineer from Uttar Pradesh commented that this happened as the new expressway was built without any drainage system!
A few days later, I came upon this brilliant Hemant Morparia cartoon that I just had to share.
Close on the heels of the above, were three more reports.
- India ranks 101 out of 116 countries in the annually published Global Hunger Index 2021
- India ranks 40 out of 43 nations in the Global Pension Index 2021
- India ranks 46 out of 132 economies in the Global Innovation Index 2021
While we were busy celebrating 100 crore vaccinations, we let the above three reports be conveniently swept under the durrie. The Prime Minister even wrote a newspaper article on converting adversity to achievement, which was surely a first in our nation’s 75 years. But then, this surely is our ‘Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, the Atmanirbhar way!
As the nation was in the ‘jashn’ of fully vaccinating a bit more than 20% of our population, we forgot to acknowledge the shocking fact that we are currently using not the stipulated ‘auto-disable’ syringes for vaccination but the regular disposable ones! This is because the government did not estimate the requirement of fresh syringes and place orders while the manufacturers had export commitments to meet. So, one of the most critical protocols of administering the Covid-19 vaccine is not being followed as per the required WHO standards! Yet we are happy with the basic fact that we are being vaccinated without a bother about adherence to the quality process.
In the 75th year of our independence, it is pertinent to ask ourselves as to why do we suffer from this omnipresent apathy towards “Quality”?It is not to do with a certain socio-economic stratum, region, caste, colour, or tribe…the lack of a basic quality consciousness runs deep and wide. It is intrinsically attitudinal and not circumstantial.
Let me share a personal experience. Duty-free shops at our airports display scale-model Ambassador taxis as souvenirs. Am sure most of you would have seen them. An expat colleague of mine wanted one for his child. He inspected one closely and decided against it. On asking, he said the finishing was bad and there were little bits of sharp plastic jutting out that could harm the child. He also said that such souvenirs lend a bad name to India. Ouch, that hurt!
What exactly has created this quality conundrum around us?
A few years later I wanted to make scale models for a new product and connected with a manufacturer. In the meeting, he proudly mentioned the Ambassador taxi they make. When I recited my experience, he answered that at that price that is the best they could do. If the quality was to be improved, they would have to get the dies from China or Taiwan!
A few years back our Prime Minister shared his ‘Mann ki Baat’ on the fact that our children are not buying toys made in India. These are not the expensive toys sold in malls. These are sold on carts in the festive season across the country. Most of these come from China as the kids love their range and finish while their parents love the durability and price! Check out the sales of Ganesha and Lakshmi idols during Diwali and you will see the resin models from China ruling the market. Ask a lady buying one and she will tell you frankly that the ‘desi’ versions are not value for money!
In my years of interacting with manufacturers and service providers, I have come across typical five responses justifying the lack of quality. Having lived in North India for a large part of my life, they are in Hindi, but I shall translate them for the benefit of all:
- “Itna chalta hai!” [This much is acceptable.] – this is a response both from the provider and the recipient. This is to assume that life is never perfect hence one will have to be both patient and large-hearted to accept the shortcomings.
- “Population dekha hai?” [Have you seen the population?] – this is another popular one and the answer to all our inefficiencies, right from food shortage to dowry deaths and mob lynchings. It is as if we invent new ways of “population control” and till then have to accept a sub-par life.
- “Aadmi zinda rahega ya quality dekhega?” [What is more important, staying alive or looking at quality?] – this is the question that supports #2; it is as if life and quality are mutually conflicting concepts, and one cannot expect to live with both; one may even rub it in by “Gyaan kum, kaam zyada.” [Less talk, more work.]; tell the provider about US, Germany, France and Canada and you go back to #2.
- “Itne paise mein itna hi hoga!” [For this money you get this much!] –this is the fait accompli response which sometimes is substituted by “Iske paise kaun dega?” [Who will pay for this quality?] –this is rubbing in the fact that we are a poor nation and till the time we remain poor we need to be satisfied with this quality of product or service; when you counter this by saying, “But what about China?”, the response is…
- “Pakistan ko dekho…” [Look at Pakistan.] –this has become a new response and a barometer to measure the progress we have made over the last few years; it is as if the last 75 years and especially the last 7 and a half have justified the Partition and migration; a decade ago Bangladesh used to be part of the repartee but sadly they seem to have moved on.
What exactly has created this quality conundrum around us? Why is it that in spite of having regulations on paper over the years and the regulatory bodies like BIS, BEE, and FSSAI in operation for decades, we are deprived of basic quality standards that ensure basic dignity of life for every Indian citizen?
The spotlight needs to shift from the statistics and incidents that are an outcome of sheer lack of a quality ethos because, as I mentioned, they are the outcome and not the reason. The boils on the skin are due to some poison inside the body. If we spend all the time covering up the boils, we will never address the poison. And that is the anomaly in the larger governance of the country, of focusing on the outcomes without addressing the reason.
There are five key reasons behind the mindset.
Dignity and Deprivation
As a nation, we have been brought up with a lack of dignity and a sense of deprivation. We have been taught to accept what is given. We have been cultivated as vote banks, always sold stories of a better quality of life.
The scion of a major political family had the sheer temerity to proudly announce recently, “Aapki party gareebon ki party hai!” [You party is the party of the poor!]. As power shifted from the paleface sahibs to the brown sahibs, the mandate of the general population not ‘deserving’ a life of quality and dignity has been perpetuated, whichever be the government in power and whatever it’s posturing.
The typical practice of handing out periodic alms [termed ‘relief’] in the form of cash transfers, free cooking gas and loan write-offs are demonstrations of the same. We would not want the common citizen to be capable enough of earning one’s salary, cooking gas and ability to pay back loans as that would require the ruler to put in place quality education, health, employment and civic systems as the fundamental foundation.
Value of Life
Sociologists say that whatever is in plenty is never valued. This holds true for our population. Even 75 years ago we were a whopping 300 million. Therefore losing 2.6 million fighting the two world wars for our colonisers and 4.00 million out of starvation does not lead to the uproar one would expect in a civilised society with a history to boast of.
We simply do not value life. I am reminded of the famous opening frame of the Sergio Leone classic ‘For a few dollars more’ that said, “Where life had no value, death, sometimes had its price. That’s why the bounty killers appeared.” According to the Indian bounty hunters, the least common denominator of our society needs no quality. Being alive is just about enough.
Curse of “Jugaad”
This has been a bete noire of whatever aspirations of finally applying universal quality standards. Jugaad has been projected as India’s answer to the world on how to do things leaner and better. It has been positioned as ‘being clever’. There have been leading captains of industry and social media magnets who have eulogised this patch-work practice. One can even come across institutionalised “Jugaad principles” being shared on the internet!
Along with ‘frugal engineering’, it has become an alternative to doing things the right way. Jugaad is nothing but a stopgap towards a permanent solution or answer. It is intensely short-term, with no empirical support of extended practice or use. It just cannot become a work ethic but just an exception.
And India is no inventor of this work style unless of course, vested historians can dig up mentions of the same in any of our legacy scriptures. Every nation, at some point, given the circumstance, has had similar examples of ingenious and immediate solutions.
Using a stainless-steel washing machine to make lassi can be just an amusing exception and not the rule to churn out quality lassi every time! That is counter to creating a structured quality ethic in everything we do.
Disrespect for Education
“The more you learn, the more you know. The more you know, the more you question.” That is one of the building blocks of education. That is also one fundamental that no political party or government really wishes to encourage, whatever be its leaning and ‘ism’.
Over the years, the one community that has seen a drastic drop in quality and commensurate respect is the teacher. Once upon a time, people in the marketplace would greet the teacher, some even touching the feet, as he/she walked past. Then government after government deliberately diluted the position of the teacher as it was an uncomfortable conscience of society. Seats of learning were deliberately berated and devalued to ensure the country produces only literate citizens and not educated. The level of disrespect reached a near pinnacle when ‘hard work’ challenged ‘Harvard’!
Under the garb of ‘democratising’ education and increasing accessibility to the exclusive seats of learning, the government is opening more IITs, IIMs and AIIMSes under the narrative that everybody has the right to the best in education. True, but a building block and free wi-fi do not provide education, the quality of the faculty does. And that is a hugely debatable subject demanding a separate article by a domain expert. A mere certificate from an IIM will not necessarily denote the highest level of management learning in an open world!
Corruption and Quality
This is obvious, isn’t it? In fact, it should read ‘Corruption versus Quality as that will depict the relationship. Way back in 1985, the then Prime Minister had remarked how only 17 paise out of every 01-rupee allocated to development programmes actually reaches the intended person. I am sure the equation would not have changed very much despite the claims of “Na khaunga, na khaane doonga!” circa 2014.
The 2020 Transparency International ‘Corruption Perceptions Index’ in the public sector is a rude reminder as India stands at rank 86, fighting with Timor, Burkina Faso, Turkey, Morocco, and Trinidad & Tobago for space. One might counter that Pakistan is at 124 and Bangladesh at 146, hence we must be the best in the region! Here again, Bhutan beat us at #24.
The two parameters have a directly disproportional relationship. They cannot co-exist however much one may cite the example of Japan in the 1990s, hugely corrupt yet a benchmark on quality of services and products.
Roads being rebuilt, hospital beds being ordered, bridges being built on paper [and also inaugurated], water being treated, schoolteachers being appointed, contracts being allocated…the list of deep-down corruption ensuring the absence of quality runs long and touches all out lives in some way or the other.
On the 75thyear of coming this far, all of us need to collectively debate and decide on how further we could go in the same manner. To end on a lighter mood, I am sharing a classic from R.K. Laxman that sure brings a smile on the face, with a tear in the eye…
(Avik Chattopadhyay is co-creator of Expereal India. Also, he is the former head of marketing, product planning, and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres, and Groupe PSA as well.)
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)