The Leadership Review Team

Driver of Optimal Governance

The Leadership Review Team

Emblem_of_India.svg

The public perception of civil servants in India is evident in the way Arvind Kejriwal had reminisced about his foray in public life: “As Commissioner, I could have made crores and travelled in a car fitted with beacon light. But I left service and decided to serve the nation.”  In any efficient society, it would have been very difficult to understand the need for a civil servant to leave the civil services to serve the nation! This understanding was common sense to an Indian mind, since any mention of a government officer immediately brings up words like corrupt, incompetent, and pompous. This negative perception for the most part has been created by the actions of civil se rvants over decades. Changing it is a herculean task, but if it can be changed, it can only be through the actions of civil servants.

Dr Shrikar Pardeshi, the Inspector General of Registration and Controller of Stamps for Maharashtra, is hardly our regular government officer. He is the changing face of the Indian Civil Services and is turning the perception of civil servants on its head through his groundbreaking work. He has led citizens to help themselves against the falling water levels. He was instrumental in solving deep rooted problems in our educational infrastructure and saving at least 10% of the educational budget of Maharashtra from going to waste. He harnessed the power of modern information technology to empower ordinary citizens and showed a way to eliminate touts – the face of corruption in government departments. He courageously took on most powerful of Maharashtra politicians, upheld law of the land, and gained the reputation of a ‘Demolition Man’.

The secret to his success is to resourcefully do more with less, leveraging technology to create transparency and ensuring compliance with law.

Doing More With Less

The Yavatmal Check-Dams

According to the Panchayati Raj ministry of the Government of India, the district of Yavatmal is one of the 250 most backward districts in India. In the early part of last decade, poor rainfall and mismanagement of water resources made the situation direr for its predominantly agrarian population. In the year 2004-2005, the groundwater level had depleted significantly, and in the summer, about 265 of its villages were forced to be tanker fed. Following the law of averages, when Yavatmal district received an above average rainfall the next year, the young CEO of its Zilla Parishad – Dr Pardeshi – appositely seized the opportunity. He knew that a repeat of the semi-draught like situation can be avoided by tapping the flow of rain water through the simple means of constructing Vanrai Bandhara (check-dams), which allows water to percolate underground gradually. Most government officers don’t do it because it is easier said than done. Constructing check dams across 16 blocks and their 2,155 villages would have entailed a budget that would nip the idea in its bud. But Dr. Pardeshi was not ‘most government officials’. Thinking out of the box, he involved school children and villagers to construct 5,000 check dams in villages across 16 blocks of Yavatmal district in a month-long campaign in October 2005.

TNAIMAGE0nnd_vanrai_bandhara

School children contributing in building a check-dam.

Involving children from the 1,800 odd primary and upper primary schools was a master stroke. They alone constructed 2,048 small check-dams – 40% of the total 5,087 check dams constructed. For them, it was a pleasant learning experience and learnt a lot about environment and water conservation. Parents of these children, panchayat members, village youth and women’s groups worked together with school children and soon, the movement became all pervasive. The construction technique used was also very simple and prudent. It involved used plastic sacks filled with sand, stitched and laid across rainwater channels to prevent the water from flowing away. That’s how he ensured that all the dams were constructed without any financial assistance from the government. Dr Pardeshi fondly remembers: “I saw it as an opportunity. A large scale drive to conserve water helped in creating awareness and sensitising people to its benefits. The initiative and enthusiasm of school children and teachers helped realise the dream.”

Finding Bogus Students

The second example is from the year 2011 when Dr Pardeshi was faced with the challenge of detection and elimination of bogus enrolments in government aided schools. The government’s logic for funding aided schools is a teacher for say, every 50 students. So, greater the number of students, greater the number of teachers, and greater the amount of funds received. As a result, many government aided schools with corrupt leadership inflated the number of children enrolled, showed bogus teachers on their rolls, and embezzled funds. With a direct bearing on the state education budget, the then state education minister wanted to verify the number of students enrolled in government aided schools across Maharashtra in a massive exercise. With his past track record, the pilot of this exercise was given to Dr Pardeshi who was then the District Collector of Nanded.

Like all great opportunities, it came with a great challenge; the official record showed seven lakh students on the rolls and this check had to be carried out only by Class I and Class II officers. Dr Pardeshi had only 425 officers to inspect 3500 schools! To complicate the situation further, the exercise had to be conducted in all the schools on the same day to mitigate the risk of same children being presented in multiple schools if there was a sufficient time gap between the inspections. So, he was in a situation where each of his teams would have to inspect nine schools in a day and doing that was impossible!

Lack of resources – a perennial problem in India – is often solved with jugaad (loosely translated to a frugal, simple, and creative solution) and a team member of Dr Pardeshi came up with just that. He suggested applying the ink used to mark voters in elections to mark the already counted students. Dr Pardeshi recalls with a chuckle in his voice:

 “Once we had this idea, we immediately wrote to the Mysore Ink Factory requesting sufficient amount of ink to inspect seven lakh students. The Mysore Ink Factory co-operated and we sent a person by air to get the ink. Our exercise was conducted from October 7 to October 10, 2011. Once we inspected a child, we applied the ink on his finger. Getting their fingers inked like the adults (during the elections) got the children very excited. This excitement also helped us as it meant that the children would not resist getting inked.”

However, the finding of the survey was far from exciting. It was shocking that out of the seven lakh students, 1.4 lakh were bogus; which meant that 20% of the government aided fund was wasted. Once the report of this pilot was submitted to the government, it took an immediate decision to get the rolls all over the state verified. In the state wide exercise, 20 lakh out of the total two crore students were found to be bogus. This finding saved at least 10% of the total education budget. In a developing country like India, that’s of great significance.

Creating Transparency through Technology         

The SARATHI Helpline

Dr. Shrikar Pardeshi

Dr. Shrikar Pardeshi

Often times it is observed that citizens remain clueless about the system and complicated formalities around availing essential services from the municipal corporations. In most cases, information about them is not easily available or is available in a techno-legal language that is difficult to comprehend for a common man. To solve this problem, Dr Pardeshi, in his tenure as the Municipal Commissioner of Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), rolled out System of Assisting Residents and Tourists through Helpline Information (SARATHI). Dr Pardeshi describes the SARATHI project with a sense of great satisfaction:

“I continued the e-governance initiative started by my predecessor at PCMC. And information related to water, education, health, drainage, street lighting, civic taxes, building activities, disaster management etc. in all 28 sectors under the municipal corporation, was uploaded on the website. We made this information available in a ‘Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)’ format on the website and a mobile application especially created for this project. Nearly six hundred FAQs pertaining to all 39 departments were added, and every unique question we encountered was first addressed and then added to the list. For people who do not have access to the web, a phone helpline was also created. People could dial this helpline number to receive guidance and grievance redressal.”

The success of the SARATHI initiative was stamped with nearly 10,000 calls that the helpline received, and over 25,000 hits on the website. It also helped ensure that citizens were saved from the tyranny of touts while getting permissions or availing services from the Municipal Corporation, which has in turn reduced the number of citizens getting duped during the processing of their applications.

Bringing Technology to the Department of Registration & Stamps

Replicating the core idea of SARATHI project, in his current role as Inspector General of Registration and Controller of Stamps in Maharashtra, Dr Pardeshi has utilised technology to empower the citizens. He has not only implemented the ‘Citizen’s Charter’ but also helped them move away from the clasp of touts by providing the facility of online registration of Leave and Licenses Agreement. Accessing the information through website, mobile application and a helpline, people can now know the mandate of the registration department, how one can get in touch with its officials, what to expect by way of services and how to seek a remedy if something goes wrong. Since October 15, 2014, it has been benefiting 1,200 – 1,300 citizens per day on a regular basis. Using the online registration module, citizens registered with UIDA can complete the registration formalities without physically going to Sub-Registrar office by paying stamp duty and Registration fee online. About 3,500 registrations have been completed through this method till date.

Ensuring Compliance with Courage

The Demolition Man

Dr Shrikar Pardeshi joined Pimpri Chinchwar Municipal Corporation (PCMC) as the Municipal Commissioner in 2012. Backed by 2011 High Court order instructing PCMC to demolish all illegal constructions in its jurisdiction, he took on the powerful construction mafia and their political patrons. During his tenure, 550 multi-storied buildings were demolished. His focus was not just on bulldozing the illegal structures, but also ensuring that those who had violated the law also get punished. Therefore, 2,100 First Information Reports (FIR) were filed; around 200 water connections and 170 drainage lines to illegal constructions were disconnected; 1,500 officials transferred and about 40 employees suspended under disciplinary actions. Bringing the menace of illegal construction on its knees in just one and a half years earned him the moniker of ‘demolition man’.

Demolition drive of PCMC.

These actions incensed the construction mafia which resulted in attacks on PCMC demolition squads, and Dr Pardeshi himself received death threats on seven occasions. Although he was then given police protection following his FIR, the threat of physical violence always loomed large. He however, remained focussed on establishing the law of the land. ”I am just going by the rule book. Some people may get upset but I have to follow the law,” was all he had to say.

However, troubles for Dr Pardeshi were only mounting and arm-twisting tactics of powerful politicians with vested interests were intensifying by the day. Newspapers were filled with reports of him being under constant pressure from a certain political party to ‘slow down’ his crusade which was resulting in a break-up in the corporator-contractor nexus. In an interview, on being asked about this political pressure Dr Pardeshi had said “There has been so much rot in the system. It’s difficult, but someone has to clean this mess. I have never pursued plum postings; if the government asks me to leave, my bags are always packed and ready. But till the time I am here, nothing illegal will be tolerated.”

Confirming the fears of many, Dr Pardeshi was soon shunted out of the PCMC. Although the government claimed that his transfer was part of the regular administrative process, citizens, opposition and activists believed otherwise. Against this government diktat rallies were held, signature campaigns were carried out and social media drives were organised. Social activists of Anna Hazare’s calibre came out in Dr Pardeshi’s support and warned the government against transferring Pardeshi before he completed his mandatory three-year term. Despite this, the transfer orders remained. Not one to go down without a fight, Dr Pardeshi delivered his last punch and initiated action against 19 officers for their alleged involvement in the cable procurement scam in PCMC.


Leave a Reply

Related

The Benefactor of Social Entrepreneurship
The Man who Redefined Activism against Child-Labour
How Arafat dismantled Black September
Kiran Bedi and the Transformation of Tihar Jail
Back to Top