AMRI Fire: Fundamental questions?

Role of non-executive directors in spotlight:


The AMRI Hospital Fire was - or could have been - or indeed, should have been - a seminal event in many ways for us. A few weeks have passed us by, and there are still some worriesome unanswered aspects from a societal, media as well as business point of view. In short:


  • Media: This is already out of the first page. In fact, there is little follow-up that I can spot. What I mean is, one has to look for it. In some cases, it is to be found in the City Section, in others elsewhere, but not on the front page. Not only that, now the reportage is mainly focusing on the plight of directors and the payments to the next of kin. In other words, only reportage, no value addition in terms of concrete measures to be taken, follow-ups on the fire, opinion - building in the public through a sustained coverage, putting pressure on the governments etc. Today is the 1-month anniversary - and I can already glean a significant drop in interest by the Media. Further, the news is now exclusively about the directors plight, with a few articles on the ex-gratia payments. Shouldn't it be the reverse, at the very least? Try to highlight the non-payment or delay in payment? I find this reprehensible, at the very least. Out of sight, out of mind. The Media owes it to the society to keep this issue alive and burning - there have been far too many such incidences, and action is now needed. 
  • I do realise that the Media has to show content that sells. But somewhere along the path for profits, the societal development and leading change roles of Media are getting lost. And, since this is a relatively fresh issue, it makes perfect business sense for the Media to keep this issue alive, as also several other issues that can be taken up
  • From a business point of view, there are several concerns that can be highlighted. I do not intend to get into the Executive Directors vs Non-Executive Directors debate on this point. Specifically, I am concentrating on the services sector, and especially essential services. The behaviour of the staff in such places towards the customer is a pain area that needs attention by the organisation. We have a sterling example of the behaviour of the Taj Hotel Employees during the terror raid on Mumbai, may their souls rest in peace.  
    • The Hazards must have been spotted by a good number of employees. This begs a couple of basic questions - first, why was it not highlighted by any staff? And Second, If despite a realisation of the hazard & proper decisions were not taken, why was this not highlighted? Why the profound silence? The silence lead to a massive and crippling loss from a business perspective, too. It makes perfect business sense to follow the rules -that can be a significant learning from this for the public services sector. There must have been strict rules in relation to this, as well as controls. These were flouted - how? 
    • Did the employees in the know realise the hazards? If they did, and kept silent, are they not equally responsible? Second, all people who were concerned with the basement, material and procurement should have been aware of the danger. Were they? If they did not realise the hazards, it is a training as well as HR matter, in addition to it being plain common sense. 
    • Was this reported to the board of the hospital? We have no idea. 
    • Who were the decision-makers - who decided to store flammable material in contravention of laws? Should not all such people in the chain of command also be held responsible? What is being done against them? They are the acual people to have caused 91 deaths, and a closure of an entire business unit. The scale of the human loss is far higher in magnitude -  with the hospital being closed, the entire staff (including those who had nothing to do with this tragedy) has no source of income from Top to Bottom. 91 People died- multiply it by their dependents, who now have no earning person - total these figures and you get to some really large numbers. In a country with a scarcity of resources, a hospital closed down.
    • The staff fled on the sight of the fire, leaving people to die. These people were patients most of them not in a state to fend for themselves. You get admitted to a hospital only when your condition is sufficiently bad such that you cannot continue normally. What happened to plain, common human decency? Further, it was also the responsibility of the staff to care for the patients. 2 examples- in one case. the Taj. In the other- AMRI. Both examples from corporate India. The behaviour of staff in the services sector towards customers is one of the most fundamental aspects of services. How customers relate to your brand, your company is determined in a large part by how your employees behave with them  for companies operaing in the services sector. This is simple business sense - and has nothing to do with human decency
  • And the 2 most critical questions: the doctors and nurses fled, leaving people to die. How can we do that? Why has there been a profound silence on this matter from everywhere? Second, on the first reports of the fire, the response was to, well. just shrug it off. What happened to basic procedures? That is a training matter, pure and simple. It should be drilled into everyone! ]
It is exactly 1 month now since the fire... and no answers. That is pretty standard for India. The more worrisome aspect is that there are no questions being asked either... 


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