INSPECTOR RAJ – from a different end of the world:
Issues involved and working in India and the West.
What are the dimensions of the differences between the Indian bureaucracy and the systems of work in the developed countries?
The first thing that seems to stand out is the open plan seating, with virtually every conversation being heard by a neighbour. Except for the extremely senior managers, all sit together, four around a simple partition, heads looking out at each other, and around them. This was a rather strange phenomena for the first few months. One would hear intimate details of different people's families or weekend plans, at the same time as you would hear about strategy being discussed; people would yell over the partitions to seek clarification, they would be sudden meetings called by manager herding his sheep by walking around and calling out people's names. Rather informal, efficient, likely to be free of corruption, and intense, in terms of getting to know people on the same floor and in the organisation. The other point is the coffee room, where people go to pour out coffee, get water, heat their breakfast or have lunch. The kitchen is cleaned by the officers and staff in rotation, with only the very senior managers exempt from the cleaning tasks.
All this is very functional: quite distinct from the dysfunctionality of the Indian bureaucratic organisations. Officers sit in different rooms, served by a paraphernalia of staff; while a few of the officers may meet in the meetings or over lunch, very little is known about each other unless you happen to be familiar in some other context.
I illustrate the difference in systems with the difference in quality between the inspectors under the Factories Act in India and the inspectors under the Occupational Health and Safety regulations in Australia is absolutely dramatic. This difference in quality leads to tremendously different outcomes on the ground.
The question arises – how does this difference in quality come about? One of the first things is that these inspectors have worked previously in the industry and are significantly paid in comparison to what a comparable person with similar experience and calibre in the private sector would be paid. An Indian inspector has no prior experience in industry and is extremely lowly paid individual.
The second difference is in terms of the management of inspectors. A vast body of professionals such as ergonomists, hygienists, statisticians and other professionals, many of them with industry experience, continuously research the state of knowledge and update expectations for the community. The process of upgrading these expectations is of course iterative, with the community being involved, all concerned stakeholders being consulted at each stage, issue papers and draft regulations being circulated for comment, and the Internet being widely used to ensure that all information on the subject in the entire world is made available during the evidence gathering process.
Inspectors are highly trained, not only in terms of their background which is usually a professional one, but in terms of the knowledge imparted to them by the professionals who manage the knowledge gathering process. This training is continuously updated so that improvements in technology are disseminated. Inspectors have access to all Australian standards, laws and regulations that are currently applicable in the state, and all forms etc., on their laptop computer. The laptop computer that is synchronised frequently, whereby the information that was updated in the interim period is available on the spot instantly at site.
All notices issued to the companies are issued on the computer and printed. Obviously, electronic copies update the system and are used for many purposes including quality assurance. This being a legislatively required activity, the records maintained on the network are accessible for use by any authorised person such as Project Officer (my role), or prosecutor.
Given the amount of information that is available to the management, supervision is also enormously better than in India. Quality assurance is an important aspect of supervision. Given the ready access to all kinds of data related to the visits including telephone numbers, names of officers who visited, time of visits, activities observed etc, it is extremely easy to determine whether a particular inspector has complied with the law or overstepped his bounds in any particular way. Each notice that is issued has an attached comment that shows the workplace how to appeal. Appeals are extremely rare due to the quality of the work of inspectors.
Another aspect that enhances the work of the inspectors is the availability of printed material as well as CDs, and copies on the Internet. On each visit the inspector goes prepared with appropriate printed reading material or CDs for that workplace. For instance, there could be some updation of state of knowledge on forklifts, which is then made available during the visits. Obviously the inspectors go in a fairly large vehicle which carries not only their equipment but also printed material and which can also carry material and documents that may be confiscated or collected under the law during the course of the inspection.
This does cost a lot of money, but as you can see, the quality of output is proportional to the quality of the input. Accordingly it can be safely said that the health and safety of the workers in Australia is looked after in the best possible way given the state of technology available today. This does not mean that there are no casualties or fatalities or injuries. Extensive records are kept of each and every incident which can be analysed in a multitude of ways. It is the duty of the employer to carry out such analysis and take suitable action, but the inspector can also call for such records and analyse them given the need or the time.