Of swings and roundabout

Of swings and roundabout

The late 60s and the early 70s of the twentieth century saw the hey days of the Panchyati Raj system in the country. Local self government was the mantra and had been especially successful in some states, notably Maharashtra, Gujarat Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The late 60s and the early 70s of the twentieth century saw the hey days of the Panchyati Raj system in the country. Local self government was the mantra and had been especially successful in some states, notably Maharashtra, Gujarat Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Such was the emphasis laid on preparing a civil servant to work, in the future, with the Panchayati Raj Institutions, in the future, that one worked as a Block Development Officer (BDO) independently for fully six months as part of district training. A community development block (or panchayat samiti as it was then known in Andhra Pradesh), resembled a mini state government.

The BDO had many regulatory functions such as the conduct of elections to the village panchayats and the disbursement and recovery of agriculture loans to farmers and, of course, a range of development functions spanning subjects such as agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries etc., education and health among others. It was a truly heady and rewarding experience.

Here was democracy at work in its true sense and at the grassroots.Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people” had literally extended itself – in my thinking – to being also a government “with” the people.My thinking, to being also a government “within” the people.

There were many programmes under implementation in different sectors of development.For instance, one was able to derive the satisfaction of contributing to the effort of the historic“green revolution” that was happening in the country, apart from many other programmes that touched the lives of the commonpeople.

The flip side, however, was the regulatory aspect.
One farmer in a village in Bandar panchayat samiti, of which I was posted as the BDO, had defaulted in repayment of the loan sanctioned to him.

Notices served having had no effect, it became necessary to attach the properties he had mortgaged as security for the loan sanctioned. I remember as if it was yesterday any walking to the farmer’s house staff, accompanied by mystaff, forcing open the lock of the door of the house and ordering some utensils and chairs to be seized and removed from the house for subsequent sale in a publicauction.

The unpleasant task having duly being performed, I had returned to Machilipatnam, my headquarters. I learned a few days later that the farmer had passed away. While there was no way of establishing a direct causal relationship between the attachment of the property and the unfortunate consequence of the farmer’s demise, I felt as if there was blood on my hands. The remorse and guilt I experienced lingered in my mind for quite some time.

One performs,perforce, many an unpleasant function in one’s career. Suspending errant employees as a prelude to the initiation of formal disciplinary proceedings, removing or dismissing employees from service when they arefound guilty of misconduct of an unforgivable dimension,convicting criminal offenders and awarding sentences, ordering use of lathis or teargas and on occasion even firing by the police, in uncontrollable law and order situations, are all actions that fall under the category of things done as part of one’s duty.

Another such painful memory relates to my tenure as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture. I headed a central team that visited (the then) Himachal Pradesh state to assess the damage caused by a cloudburst in Kinnaur village near Shimla the state headquarters. A truly unbelievable scene awaited as.

A cloudburst, common in those areas, typically has many special features – it is sudden, intense, localized and short-lived. Unfortunately the event had occurred over an area in the mountains surrounding that village. Huge amounts of water had collected within a matter of minutes and came pouring down the slope of a mountain and hit the village with tremendous force.

This had happened in the wee hours of the morning. Such was the impact of the torrent that the village was razed to the ground instantaneously. By the time our team reached the spot little was left of what was,barely twenty four hours earlier, a bright and cheerful habitation teeming with happy people busy with their daily lives.

The unbridled and savage fury of the rampaging cloud burst had, in its way, transformed a living community into a mass graveyard bearing the marks of its carnage.An electric substation situated in the Kinnaur had also been wiped out by the devastating gush of water and the only remnants that served as a reminder that a structure had stood there was the foundation upon which the building had been constructed.

In a hamlet of the village, it was heartrending to find that not a single soul had survived even to recount the gory details of what had transpired. The team, no doubt, recommended generous assistance to the state from the government of India to cover the rescue relief and reconstruction activities. No amount of assistance however, could have undonecompensated for the true loss suffered by the community of the village.

There are many other pleasant things one does that compensate by bringing happiness and joy Promotingemployees, sanctioning rewardsfor good performance, distributing prizes to children who have done well in studies or sports in school, supporting the admission of sickpeople for treatment in hospitals, restoring to landless persons the rightful ownership and possession of high handedly encroachedlands.

Similarly, being able to make a significant contribution to the quality of life of poor children, helping destitute women stand on their feet,providing pensions to the aged and the challenged, creating facilities for the availability of adequate and good quality drinking water in a village electrifying a village or bringingdry lands under irrigation,the list can go on endlessly.

Such opportunities make one thank the Almighty that one has been able to have played a role inenhancing the quality of life of communities through welfare and development programmes.

I have always felt, however, that while spreading sweetness and light is undoubtedly asatisfying experience, it is really when one takes painful decisions - such as closing down a school on account of poor sanitation, ordering a corrupt person to be prosecuted or refusing to bow down to pressures from political leaders or businessmen at the risk of premature transfer, arereally the times when one earns one’s salary.


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