Tuesday, December 07, 2021

My years in service

By EMN Updated: Nov 21, 2013 11:08 pm

Wherever approach road was available, the Overseer would make up all kinds of busy schedule until the villagers offered to hire a vehicle for him to transit the distance. Only then the busy schedule would disappear. On reaching the village the same charade of finding fault with the village work implementation would be repeated and the rule book would weigh heavily on each village. In this, both the parties were at fault: the villagers for intentional underperformance with profit motivation and the Department for taking advantage of this. The dual verification system brought about some sanity in Kiphire. Unfortunately such checks and balance system does not exist even today where administrative officers play no role in the development process.

Khekiye K. Sema 

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith the Yimchungru-Tikhir storm blown over we settled down to a more routine nature of administration. My first primary task was to motivate the mindset of my officers beyond the normal mundane law and order duties which really did not amount to much in the rural settings. Expecting them to visit the same villages under their respective jurisdiction again and again on a law and order duty would necessarily not inspire enthusiastic administrative spirit. How many times could they tell the villagers to behave themselves when they were already behaving themselves? All the outpost Officers were therefore called in to adapt them for a new supervisory role that I had expected them to perform with a focus on development management in their respective sectors. While the Block Development Officer was expected to continue to implement the schemes as usual, it was intended to ensure that work was actually being done on the ground.The Administrative Officers were formally assigned to verify the village works being executed and submit their field verification report without which VDB funds would not be released. This second independent chain of scrutiny would induce the blocks to ensure work completion in the rural base. This was a policy move which the BDOs showed unwillingness to accept in the early 1980s when Mr. Gokhale tried a coordinated move with the Commissioner to have it formalized but failed. A crash course on the elementary functioning of the Village Development Board was imparted for each of the officers to enable them to confidently begin a wide public awareness campaign. Transparency was the key factor that needed to be imposed to ensure funds were being utilised properly. All the officers were reasonably able to absorb their new assignment satisfactorily when release. They now had a valid reason to visit their constituents over and over again.  In course of second tier verification being carried out by the administration a great many defaulting factors in the development affairs at the rural base were dug up. Let me give you an insight as to how the representatives of our 9th Faction operated, as revealed by my officers in course of their roundups. This is a true field story earlier told but being repeated for the sake of continuity. The Block Development Officer, was otherwise pre-engaged with other priorities and so sent his grassroots boss, then known as Overseer not J.E, to verify the works performance of ‘A’ village and submit a completion certificate for preparation of their final bill. This village in question, had a 60’x50’ football ground slated in their village plan for levelling out. The villagers had slaughtered a piglet to host his lunch. On arrival he was warmly received by the elders. When field verification was carried out, the Overseer was hardly able to measure 17’x14’ of earthwork manually executed by the community. The VDB members along with GBs and other elders sat in council with him. They fervently explained their difficulties of having to pay for hospitality expenses on account of all the VIP visits like the Overseer himself. The Overseer with a very stern look on his face told them that he had no choice but to strictly follow the rules. The rules did not allow him to certify underperformed works as completed. He would run into a very serious disciplinary repercussion. “No! no! no! I cannot do this,” he emphasized, “you will have to complete the work as per your village plan”. The Villagers frankly told him that they were not in a position to complete the work as specified and desperately pleaded with him saying that his (Overseer’s) interest will be taken care of. The Overseer stuck to his guns and he quoted the rules again. Taking care of his interest had still not been quantified. The elders intelligently sensed this and so they decided to mention the amount of ‘care’ they had in mind. The Overseer was still unmoved. By now the Villagers were unable to differentiate the Overseer from the rules book which got quoted one more time by him with a poker face as he stood up as if to leave. In dire helplessness the shorter statured VDB Secretary reached up his arm affectionately around the shoulders of the much taller Overseer, albeit with some difficulty, and further raised the “care” stake just a little more higher. The Overseer was not feeling too comfortable with this shorter man clinging on to his shoulders but the raised ‘care’ stake sounded right so with a warm affectionate smile in return he agreed to sign the completion certificate. This time Mr. Disciplinary Repercussion and Mr. Rules quietly slinked out the window unobserved. Everybody was happy. This was the kind of rural development comedy being played out as a matter of routine in most of the Villages where quality of work was far from their minds. This kind of stories would not have seen the light of day had the administrative officers not been involved in the independent verification process. The other story that came to the surface was the transportation augmentation tactic of the Overseer. In their anxiousness to have the village work verified for work completion certificate, the villagers would beg the Overseer to come to the village. Wherever approach road was available, the Overseer would make up all kinds of busy schedule until the villagers offered to hire a vehicle for him to transit the distance. Only then the busy schedule would disappear. On reaching the village the same charade of finding fault with the village work implementation would be repeated and the rule book would weigh heavily on each village. In this, both the parties were at fault: the villagers for intentional underperformance with profit motivation and the Department for taking advantage of this. The dual verification system brought about some sanity in Kiphire. Unfortunately such checks and balance system does not exist even today where administrative officers play no role in the development process. Most of the DCs, as Chairman of the VDB, hardly pay attention to the regulating factor of VDB other than to sign cheques as submitted by the BDOs. By now all our villages ought to have attained a modicum of advancement into a mini township with all elementary facilities being afforded but it remains as it always had been for obvious reasons.
My circle-wise tour programmes were then scheduled. Initially the Deputy Inspector of Schools and the Block Development officer were my constant companions on these tours. The DIS inspected the schools while the BDO followed me with data and statistics of each village being visited. Each of the Administrative Officer of the area joined the tours compulsorily and just as Mr. Gokhale has pushed me through a routine, they passed through the same manufacturing process. As was expected, the issue of transparency was nonexistent in all the villages that were first visited and the scenario was not likely to change in all the rest. In full public meetings I would round up the most significant aspects of the VDB Model Rules and then call for public reaction. It was a routine response that the public knew nothing about the Village Grant-in-aid (G-i-A) amount. The monthly VDB public meetings that was supposed to be had never happened. Mandatory woman representatives were mostly not in place and even if woman were inducted as VDB member all didn’t know about their legitimate 25% share of the G-i-A. All they knew was that they were told to make tea when the VDB meetings were held, if at all. The questioning eyes of the public would pop every time the G-i-A amount that had been received by the village was mentioned. Then we could see an impatient crowd waiting for us to depart from the village for their own kitchen conversation. After every village visit the VDB Secretary and the Village Council Chairman (VCC) were being thrown out by most of the Village public, for their misdemeanours. I ensured that such petitions were given prompt attention. New VDB Secretaries were accepted and appointed and the case of new VCCs were forwarded to the Home Department for acceptance. In course of the tour, the Administrative Officer of the circle were made to conduct some of the meetings for them to explain the VDB management issues. All the Officers picked up their queue reasonably fast, some faster than the others and some more passionate than the others. All in all I couldn’t have asked for more from my officers. In Sitimi Village they ecstatically remembered our earlier intervention for having made them deposit their Huba savings into the Matching Cash Grant (MCG) scheme. They happily reported that they took 75% loan and hosted their religious conference. They were close to recovering their loan by now from the interest amount and still had Rs. 1,50,000/- in their Bank Account. They were wiser now and felt sorry for distrusting Mr. Bedi, their earlier ADC. At that time Kiphire Village was the only other village which had reached the maximum ceiling of Rs. 75,000/- I could see that all the villages were trying their best to reach the maximum target but were struggling without resources. It was then that a light bulb lighted up in my thinking box. I asked the BDO to check up all the fixed deposit record of each village and single out those who had crossed Rs.45,000/- mark. Out of the 64 villages in this Sub-Division around 12 villages had that minimum target amount that I was looking for. I called the Branch Manager SBI and explained to him the working mechanism of the 75% loan being proposed for each VDBs which had Rs. 45,000/-. It would only be a paper transaction in that the loan would directly be credited into their existing FDA bringing their FD total to Rs. 75,000/- which would be equally matched by the Govt. The interest accrued from Rs. 1,50,000/- would be secure enough to recover the loan amount slowly. It was a win-win proposition for all concerned without violating the banking norms but the Manager showed signs of noncooperation. He felt uneasy to provide the loan without the clearance of his HQs first for the kind of transaction I was proposing. The Head Office also began playing with excuses for such a loan being advanced initially. Seeing their rather critical attitude on the issue I decided to play the game as roughly as they were. I gave the Branch Manager a week’s time to obtain clearance from his Head Office for implementation of this scheme or face the consequence of all Kiphire VDB Accounts being closed down and transferred to the State Cooperative Bank which I could effect as the Chairman of the VDBs. My threat paid off finally. They couldn’t afford to lose crores of VDB related transactions in a small station like Kiphire. All identified Villages were notified and each were given loans to reach the Rs.75,000/- ceiling. Within a couple of months the Villages with a maximum ceiling had shot up to around 12 villages for which MCG was received. Mr. Gokhale was still in the RD Department when this was happening and he wanted to know how I was being able to achieve these unusual results. When I explained to him the process I had adopted he jokingly said I was cheating. The whole idea was to let the villagers work and build up their security. I informed him that I would be cheating some more because the long term objective was to generate security for the Villagers but left on their own the villagers would take years to reach the maximum limits in the absence of resources. In fact I first tried to convince Mr. Gokhale to allow other DCs/ ADCs to adopt this approach but he showed no enthusiasm to do so. He left me free to do as I pleased but was not inclined to have my approach replicated by the other districts. “Let each use their own initiative”, was his conclusion. He in fact was tolerating my game plan and I dared not push the issue further less he asked me to put a break on mine as well. From that point onwards the BDO and all the administrative officers were instructed to equally focus on the Matching Cash Grant (MCG) scheme and help the villagers to at least generate Rs. 35 to 40,000/- to invoke the loan for a final target.
Disaster hit Kiphire about six months later…truck loads of asbestos roofing materials started arriving Kiphire for the rural housing scheme. When the beneficiaries for rural housing came to collect and saw the asbestos sheets they were flabbergasted. The problems we in the RD Department had visualised in trying to persuade the Minister in charge from acquiring asbestos sheets then was now a reality. I was now at the receiving end of it. None of the beneficiaries wanted it. A desperate effort to have it locally exchanged for CGI sheets from the local dealers could not be sustained but for a few beneficiaries. The poor villagers being deprived of their convenience had begun to generate dissatisfaction and anger. By now Mr. Gokhale had also been moved out of the RD Department and Mr. Colney had taken over. Several frantic wireless messages were sent to the Department explaining the ground situation without even a single curtsy response. The situation came to a head when every beneficiary refused to deliver the asbestos sheet and were slowly becoming restive. They wanted CGI sheets only. Period. In total frustration I sent a final full-fledged detail report to RD HQ adding that a cross had been planted on the graveyard of asbestos sheets. This was addressed to the Secretary RD, a copy to the Minister RD and to all the Deputy Commissioners and Additional Deputy Commissioners in Nagaland. The disappointing part was that all DCs and ADCs were having the same identical problems in their respective sectors but none of them said a thing… not a word. It was later learnt that the Minister was extremely upset with this wide publicity message that I had sent and had ordered the Secretary to take necessary disciplinary action against me. The Secretary was very well aware that I was Minister K.L.Chishi’s cousin brother and must have found it awkward to initiate action as ordered. The problem was further compounded by the fact that the Department had also not even bothered to respond to all the earlier communications reflecting the ground reality. So he instead called S.S. Agarwalla the Marwari supplier, to replace the asbestos sheets with CGI sheets for Kiphire. The beneficiaries of Kiphire finally got what they wanted. Putting myself on the firing line was ultimately worth the effort. That’s what we were there for…to represent rights of the people in this Sub-Division when their case was genuinely justifiable. That the other DCs and ADCs didn’t do the same for their subjects was none of my business.
The writer is retired IAS Officer

By EMN Updated: Nov 21, 2013 11:08:52 pm