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Separate donkeys from race horses — why we must listen to Nitin Gadkari’s speech on governance

In episode 606 of ThePrint's Cut The Clutter, Shekhar Gupta discusses Nitin Gadkari's recent speech lambasting the NHAI for a decade-long delay in completing a building project.

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New Delhi: Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s speech at an inauguration of a National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) building in Delhi points to everything that’s wrong with the Indian governance system, particularly when it comes to infrastructure building, and why India has fallen so far behind, said Shekhar Gupta.

In episode 606 of Cut the Clutter, Gupta, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief, discussed the speech in which the minister for Road Transport & Highways lambasted the NHAI for having taken over 10 years to build one structure. The inauguration took place on 28 October.

Gupta said Gadkari’s arguments were pertinent in understanding the problems afflicting India’s system of governance. Taking note of Gadkari’s language, Gupta pointed out that the minister used the words nikamma (good for nothing) at least seven times as well as nalayak (incompetent/stupid), dhulai (thrashing), dubane ka kaam (drowning) and vishkanya (referring to mythological poisonous women) to describe the system of governance in his ministry and India at large.

“The minister is saying listen, you’ve called me here to felicitate all of you, because it’s a formality. It’s an obligation for a minister that when a project is completed, particularly when a ministry building is completed, a minister should come and felicitate everybody involved and congratulate them. But I can’t convince myself to congratulate you all,” Gupta translated from a portion of Gadkari’s speech.

Also read: Mumbai must be ‘decongested’, need new policies for cities short on capacity: Nitin Gadkari

The rot within

Gadkari expressed his displeasure at the fact that a building cleared in 2008, the contract for which was signed around 2011, took over 10 years to build. “Constructing one simple building in Delhi with no infrastructure constraints to building. This is not a road being built at 18,000 feet in Ladakh,” Gadkari had said.

At one point, Gupta said, Gadkari asked those attending the ceremony to find all those who headed the NHAI in the past — chairmen, general managers and chief general managers — and put up their pictures in the building for everyone to “see who is incompetent”.

Gadkari had also spoken about the many cases in which he had advised the government to pay up at the first instance of a dispute with a contractor, who is often blamed for delays. Typically, the matter is taken to court, resulting in the government having to pay even more money than would have been necessary, and causing more delays.

“I’m not saying you have no good people, but those are not the people that you rely on. On the other hand, treat as your guides and philosophers these vishkanyas … people who come and poison others and to kill an institution,” Gadkari said, according to Gupta.

Also read: Highways ministry ‘flouting’ SC order in Char Dham project, top court takes suo moto cognisance

Non-performing employees as NPAs

In his speech, Gadkari was acerbic in his criticism, calling personnel delaying projects  “non-performing assets”, who are so rotten that they “can’t be used for vermiculture” (a process of using worms to create compost) … “which means they are worse than cow dung”.

“He says the system is so bad that all the bosses give everybody’s ACRs (annual confidential reports) nine out of 10 if not 10 out of 10,” equating “donkeys with race horses”, said Gupta.

Gadkari noted that even when he asks Members of Parliament about certain projects as a test, they say they will check with their secretaries and get back to him.

“He says if there’s anybody I congratulate, I will congratulate the designer and the contractor. I presume he’s saying that in spite of the system, they’ve been able to complete it,” Gupta noted. Gadkari concluded his speech by saying he will take over ACRs himself, and use stronger methods, without which the government won’t reform.

Also read: Hindutva, China, Covid & agriculture — Breaking down Mohan Bhagwat’s Dussehra speech

A speech for everyone

Analysing the speech, Gupta said, the government system is the “vishkanya which makes us so late. We are so prone to delays because we know nothing will happen to us. There is no accountability”.

“Even in our popular culture, we tend to glorify delays. Take your time, be patient. Don’t be in a hurry. So the reason we take Nitin Gadkari speech … is that what he has done is actually a massive cut the clutter on behalf of the government system,” Gupta said.

What the Government of India needs, in fact every state government system needs, is a big, big, big reform. “And once again, for that reform to happen, you have to separate — (and) this is no insult to the donkeys — you have to separate the donkeys from the race horses.”

Gupta finally said that this was a speech “every policymaker in India and every government officer in India, and frankly every voter in India and taxpayer should listen to”.

Watch the full episode here:

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  1. A judicious combination of horses for speed and donkeys for large hauls will do. With due apologise to horses and donkeys

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