In 1995 I headed the Naval Liaison Cell at Bharat Electronics (BEL), Bangalore. Being a unit under Ministry of Defense Productions, major share of BEL’s business has been with defence services.
Once when I was walking around the communication systems workshop, I saw a sealed box that had come from Naval Signal School at Cochin. Looking at the thick layer of dust on the box, I asked the manager of the lab about the date of receiving the package. Records showed that the equipment had come for guarantee repairs a year earlier. Not opened yet.
Manager’s reasons for not opening the box:
- Even if we repair the equipment, we cannot return it to the Navy. The new quality initiative and ISO certified process requires that goods cannot leave the factory premises without paying excise duty. Defence services are exempt from excise duty and we can’t charge them.
Catch-22 is a novel by Joseph Heller. The term Catch-22 is invoked to explain or justify the military bureaucracy. Here BEL, with its own quality systems, is playing Catch-22 on the military!
2. The client has not reminded even once about the pending repairs. They probably did not require the equipment.
Step by step, up the ladder of authority, I had to reach to the Executive Director (Mr. Gopal Rao) of BEL to get the box opened as well as to make minor changes to the software to allow the equipment to be shipped out without paying excise duty. It took one month. Or was it two?
A month after that, BEL celebrated Quality Week. Banners fluttered all over the factory premises. The ED called for a meeting with customer representatives. We sat around the conference table. ED sought feedback about BEL quality, calling each rep by turn. They all eulogised BEL’s quality initiatives and customer focus. When it was my turn, ED chose to skip me. I told him that I too had some feedback, to which he offered to listen at the end. I insisted that I spoke when it was my turn rather than waiting till the end and told,
“I have only two points:
- If I asked a question to my wife and she responded not, I would be annoyed. If a friend did so, I would be irritated. If BEL responded to my letters, I would be pleasantly surprised.
- BEL builds several weapons and equipment for the Navy. In the time of war, I would not like to be in a ship fitted with those systems.”
Following a stunned silence for a minute, the ED moved on to hear the next customer representative without responding to my comments.
During the next couple of weeks, a few GMs and AGMs of BEL met me in my office, generally disturbed about the situation I created. Then, the dust settled and it was quality process as usual.
Later in my days with software companies, similar lip-services were paid to quality systems. ISO and CMM certifications have remained marketing tools without commitment to quality. People, who print slogans of commitment to the customer, cheat by lying about quality processes.
Institutes that get National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) accreditation are no different.
For many organisation quality has become one-time activity of getting certified.