Translate

Monday, September 19, 2016

What I Learnt In 100 Days As Lieutenant Governor


I have just completed over a hundred days in the current position of Lieutenant Governor, Puducherry, a most pristine and nature-gifted union territory of India.

When I came to this assignment, based on prior briefings, I had already received, I knew I would need a lot of extra energy to deliver transformation. I would also need a lot of real information on the goings on for making informed decisions and offering policy directions.

Question was how do I get there soon enough. I did not know any one personally here who would share ideas informally. I had no personal staff either with whom I had worked earlier to brief me in confidence. So who would I ask for insightful inside information? Over and above that, I did not know the local language, Tamil.

Therefore, how do I access the ordinary person? Or communicate with him to either listen or tell? Most of all, how do I win over the ordinary citizen's trust?

Raj Nivas is housed in a secure heritage mansion built by the French; it is an office-cum-residence. It's a beautiful structure with antique interiors.

Black and white framed pictures adorn the walls of some of its past residents. There is even a picture of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru with Mother of Aurobindo Ashram in my residential office.

I am now part of its present.

For a citizen to access the Lieutenant Governor, he/she has to pass through a few layers of security. Would he easily dare to cross those checks? Or obstacles?  I wondered.

But I had no time to lose.

I have spent all my life making my work accessible. I was informed of some essential protocols required. (They turned out to be not so suffocating) Based on my past work experience, if one does not open an account in the first week and the second at a new work place, it takes long to set the perception going.

And what is the perception that I wanted?

I wanted the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry to be known to be easily accessible, a communicator, citizen-friendly, consultative, collaborative, a solutions provider, secure, well-informed and even recognisable.

I set in motion, based on my experience, some immediate steps.

Here are a few of those:

The first priority was personal energy. I needed extra energy to work 18 hours a day. I equally needed time to reflect on being my own friend. To do auto talk, to seek clarity within on an ongoing basis. I decided to get into a daily practice of Yoga and meditation.

This meant getting up much before sunrise. I recalled my Vipassana teacher, Shri SN Goenka, who  said that the best energy-gaining time is at 4.30 am and to meditate then.

I fixed the alarm for 4 am. I followed the regime. It worked wonders. It energised me, gave me ideas to work on, and provided a mental spring. I felt guided by a higher power. I received a daily blessing. While focussing on my breath, ideas also came calling.

With that energy and ideas generated, I started a daily 10 am meeting with my close team. The colleagues in the team proved to be the most worthy. They were professionally sound, enthusiastic, and trust-worthy.

The daily newspapers became a starting point on the goings-on in the territory. Discussion on those reports added to our priorities of the day to unravel the areas needing urgent attention. It also set the priorities for me. I knew now what needed special attention and why. The newspapers became my credible source of starting point.

We minuted our deliberations and began our meetings with a review of the previous day. This ensured follow-up and implementation. This meant results started to be visible.  We topped it with personal visits, planned and by surprise, to see and understand the problems being reported. This genuine concern brought me close to the common citizen. The benefits were becoming visible. Hope and optimism started to be aired. Expectations also rose. This brought more information. Now from more directions. The e-mail, the social network accounts, the call centres, by mail and more.

The third important step that I took was to ask for a department-wise presentation of their SWOT analysis. This got me introduced to Cabinet Ministers in working together, and senior officers down the line too...my responses and my queries drove home the message that performance with transformative ideas will be the criterion. It will not be work as usual. Everything has to be transparently and expeditiously delivered.

Often, the time for presentations ran into lunch break. The presenting department then joined in for lunch at Raj Niwas. This enabled personal connect within weeks. All 30+ departments were reviewed. Several officers saw and entered the Durbar Hall dinning room for the first time. After the lunch break, I attended to visitors by appointment. They came up with ideas and offers of support. Abundance started to flow.

But along with it came certain serious issues of legacy. This gave me an opportunity to seek more information, study these issues for myself, have the matters examined in a time-bound manner, and even resolve matters hitherto considered impossible. Officers were responding and action started to flow.

As if this were not enough, my 5 to 6 pm slot was earmarked for an Open House, which meant any one could come in without an appointment on a first-come-first-served basis, to be heard. (Within the same security layers.) This shook the system. Every thing now was truly open.

The ball now was in the court of public officials to do the same or else people had the option to reveal them. It also placed the initiative back with people, that now they could report their concerns with the assurance of a follow-up. I instructed all departments to observe an Open Hour for people's grievances. Both the processes bore fruit. While resolving issues, it became a source of information for what all  needed to be addressed.

I was of course being tested but I knew where we were going. Also everyone was waiting for how soon the results would flow.  I knew I had the stamina...

All municipal issues, education, health care, admissions, land encroachments, crimes again women, traffic woes, and more...all of them started to get addressed one by one. The language barrier was broken as I had with me two other exceedingly knowledgable officers to help me understand.

This converted Raj Nivas into a Seva Niwas: there was an over-whelming feeling of assurance, in seeing their last court of appeal open every day with processes of follow-up in place. We coopted the Lok Adalat for several issues. This provided a big relief in grievance redressal.

After 6 pm, it was time to clear office files with my Secretary, Mr G. Theva Neethi Dhas, a man of sound integrity. Having served in most of the positions in Puducherry Administrative Service, he knew the matters from within. Each file was of value. Some involved a tough policy call, with others there was a  long-standing issue waiting for clearance.

Some files turned out to be few years old. (Another legacy.)

Every evening, files were cleared with a sense of objectivity and justice, keeping in mind the interest of the Union Territory and its people. (Some  tough decisions on certain appointments of personal staff set the policies in perspective.)

Many evenings, meetings continued over an early meal together, sometimes with visiting officials to Puducherry, or our own officers, or own ministers.

The most unique initiative which is becoming transformative is the weekend 6 am rounds.

Every Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine, we drove/drive out as a team at sharp 6 am to see sites/issues together. The team comprises of the Chief Engineer or his senior colleague, and representatives of irrigation engineers, municipal services, police, environment, forest, slum board, land and development. Often included were the MLAs of the area of visit. It could be canals, drains, ponds, lakes, sewerage treatment plants, bus stops, railway stations, intersections from a road safety point of view, fishing harbours, unauthorised encroachments, infrastructure built but not occupied, and preparation for flood management and more.

The area of visit is announced sometimes just the evening before. Places are identified on the basis of inputs received from all directions through the week.

Shramdaan with handball or volleyball has been introduced. This has helped kickstart the Swachh Bharat movement in communities and even in remote rural areas. All this and more made the first 100 days energetic and dedicated to problem-solving, solutions-providing, decision-making, team and trust-building, empowering, resource-generating, bonding, collaborating, innovative, inspiring, and progressive.

I look forward now to the next 100 for a Prosperous Puducherry, the mantra I gave on my oath-taking day as Lieutenant Governor on May 29.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Lessons to girls for doing well in journey called life

How does one feel seeing over 2,000 cute, round, black-haired heads with curious eyes, all in the age group of 16 to 20, sitting cross-legged and you have the task to address them? 

Truly electrified, responsible and caring — that is how I felt when I was in front of an audience of the girl students at Stella Maris College, Chennai. It was an experience that none of us will probably ever forget. 

I decided to prepare them for life ahead, just like a parent prepares a daughter, provided the daughter is listening. And these girls with ears and eyes focused on me, were listening.
It was a colossal inspiration and a responsibility. What do I give them...that they could keep with themselves as an addition to their toolkit of life skills. 

Since I wanted them to be aware, happy, safe and self-reliant, I gave them the three sets of mantras, in a manner that they will always remember. First Mantra was the ‘ABCD of Freedom’. What does freedom mean? It meant ‘Ability’ to flourish. Ability comes from the appropriate use of opportunities.
This is within ‘Boundaries’ to be adhered to, based on the one’s own ‘Conscience’, with a sense of ‘Duty’.
I explained how important at this age was for them to focus on improving their abilities and make the best of opportunities available. The fact that they were enjoying good health, by making use of ‘five wonders’ (five senses), they must understand the value of this gift of nature.
On ‘Boundaries’, I meant self-imposed regulations or discipline based on their own reflection and sense of duty, as students and citizens.
I then took them to the second mantra. It was about the ‘Three Ws’ that can change the world — Women, Weather, and Web.
First ‘W’ was they themselves. It was how they shape their lives and perform. It was in their own hands. The second ‘W’ was the Web or technology. The use of that too is in their hands. How well they use it, how much they train themselves in it and make it as a part of their growth is crucial.
The third ‘W’ is weather, over which none of us has any control. But we need to be prepared to take on its vagaries and volunteer as responsible citizens to check the environment degradation.
I then came to the third mantra, of ‘Three Ms’, which, I believe, change the lives of women in particular. 

The first ‘M’ being money. I explained to them that without financial independence, there will be no empowerment. They must grow up to be self-reliant in all respects. Financial independence will make them secure substantially. 

Second ‘M’ was marriage. I told them the kind of life partner they choose will make or mar their idea of journey called life, as an incompatible marriage is stressful and may stop their growth. But it still is reversible. Marriage is not mandatory.
It is the third ‘M’, the motherhood, that will change their life forever. Once a child is born, the mother relives her life. It is not reversible. 

Hence they must know what they want, when they want, and how will they fulfil their responsibilities. What kind of support system is available for them to nurture their child along with fulfilling their professional pursuits is important. 

In the end I explained to them, all these mantras demand energy from them.
How will they generate it? There is no instant recharge as is there for batteries in electronics. They have to have the skills to recharge.
I made them shut their eyes and go within. I made them experiment that by looking inside with eyes closed in the wee hours of the day, they could generate energy to go that extra mile to achieve selfreliance.
I explained to them how I learnt this art and how without that I would not have been able to serve long hours in all my demanding assignments. The students practised meditation for 10 minutes and learnt to tap the inner energy.
I won’t forget this experience. Nor should those daughters forget the ABCD, the ‘Three Ws’ and the ‘Three Ms’.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Why I Threatened To Leave Puducherry. Cleaning It Is Not For Me Alone.

I was on my tour to Karaikal, an outer region of Puducherry. 

The Union Territory has two others, Mahe and Yanam, contiguous to neighbouring states, like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala. 

Puducherry is a very interesting erstwhile French-controlled union Territory. Pristine, spiritual, known as Vedapuri or a centre of Vedic learning, later the home of Mother and Sri Aurobindo, besides being abundantly gifted by nature, just like Goa. 

However I was on my first tour out to the southern region of Karaikal. 

The Collector there, a young IAS officer called Parthiban, planned my visit on August 18. Also present in the town was Mr R Kamalakannan, MLA from the area who is also the Education Minister of Puducherry.

I was informed a lot of prior cleaning happened to make the city presentable. I learnt this because lots of messages were received asking me to come more often.

My tour began with a meeting with all heads of departments of the Karaikal administration. Three other MLAs from the district were present along with the minister.

The presentation, slide after slide, revealed how the district had received "step motherly" treatment all these years compared to Puducherry. I was truly dismayed at the huge deficits as per the needs of the district. It has been more mismanaged than managed. (Barring some periods of an occasional leader.) As of today it needed attention. The Collector had just joined few weeks ago. 

The complaint was also made that no senior officer in recent memory had condescended to come and stay in Karaikal for a serious review of the district administration and to ask them what they really needed. But VIPs did make regular visits to the famous Shani temple and the district officials always facilitated the darshan. Karaikal is a part of the area's spiritual heritage. 

The presentation revealed the serious inadequacies all around. In fact, my question to the officers was, please show me what is right? And the last slide of "thank you" was the best one.

After the Heads of Department meeting, I was scheduled to meet with students. This was on a mass request. The Collector had arranged it in a sports stadium, which he said, after construction, had been kept locked up. For this occasion, he opened it up.
x

I was now in an auditorium with over 2,000 students. The issue was: what do I say? Do I tell them what the government proposes to do with all its inadequacies, and assure them that it will be taken care of? Problems like the shortage of hostels, teachers, vocational guidance, buses, dispensaries, and even the issue of crimes against women?

Prior to this, I had requested my advance team led by Dr Amrita Bahl, part of the Lieutenant Governor's Office, to conduct a survey asking students what they can do for Karaikal. 

With a dip test, we realised they were looking forward to certain collaborative service with government agencies. They themselves suggested they would like to part of Swachh Abhiyaan, and also teach younger kids to compensate for the shortage of teachers.

I picked these two programs and got them in.

The following day, being a Saturday, was planned as clean up day, led by the minister himself (he is a very nice man). The minister announced the location of getting together and offered to lead the drive, even serve breakfast to all the students participating. There was a roar. And as I said bye bye to students, they asked me to come back soon. 

I told them "yes, next month", to which Parthiban later told me that he had exhausted all the cleaning funds on my current visit. This hit me hard,and the thought stayed with me as a serious concern. 

The next day, as planned, there was a huge clean-up drive. The minister led it, and the city showed its youth power. It showed the potential of collaborative energy. They only needed an induction or synergy. 
The next day was a Sunday. I returned to my weekend 6 am inspection round in Puducherry. (Since a clean, safe and orderly Puducherry has been a mission for me). I went to the lake site under cleaning, and the waste dump yard. I found all the tasks discussed/given on earlier inspection had made no/little progress. I gave a piece of my mind to the officers present. Some key implementors were missing in the team. I asked for them; no one had an answer as to why they were not there. I left the place in a fit of serious disappointment, wondering that  if this the state of affairs for a Lt Governor's visit, who else is left now to speed up the decision-making? 

I skipped a visit to another site planned earlier and decided that I will not let senior officers get away. They have got to be on site with me and ensure the work is done. 

I was now on my way to a social event full of youth, participating in a marathon race, organised by JIPMER, and Lions Clubs. Before me were the hundreds of youth to be addressed. As I stepped on the road, I saw the road littered with paper glasses and used water bottles. 

I had come from a dump yard, with soiled shoes with excreta on the soles, officers not having delivered, key seniors not present including the chief of bureaucracy who is a key coordinator, and yesterday's Karaikal visit when the Collector had told me that he had no funds to clean the city for my next visit, and this youth had littered the place, and this day was my 20th morning round. I was wondering how many rounds will it take me an LG to bring about the change all around.

With this all in my mind, I asked the youth if they knew where I had been this morning. They obviously would not know. 

I told them I had come from a stinking garbage dump yard. And that my shoes are still soiled in excreta and filth. I was spending all my weekend mornings getting dirty drains and roads cleared for them and here they continue to dirty it again. This will not go on, I said. That is when I said, neither you nor seniors are taking responsibility. If this will continue, I will pack my bags and go. I am not here to clean your....

If we want to make Puducherry clean then it has to be we, not me alone. There was a roar...we won't let you go...

Well then, I give you time till next month's end, clean up your respective areas as Karaikal is doing now, and senior officers have to join or else I am going...

The rest is history. The Chief Minister met me and assured me most graciously that he will put systems in place. The cabinet met, decided on systems of garbage and solid waste Management. They cleared the budgets with record amounts for such services. They also realised the public servants' leadership was amiss. 

I told the Chief Minister "You are not working with a person called Kiran Bedi, you are dealing with an office called Lt Governor of Puducherry. I shall not let the dignity of this office be weakened. Join in, do what is your duty to do. I am here to strengthen you, to make Puducherry prosperous."

Article Published on NDTV August 23, 2016 16:18 IST

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Get ready to harvest super monsoon or miss the bus

Summers are becoming scary in several parts of India. Two consecutive deficient monsoons have driven mass migration cities.
We have seen images of endless rows of empty pitchers around dry wells, kept in the hope of water, even if unclean. Women and children walk in scorching heat to fetch water. Farmers’ suicides makes them widows and orphans. After watching these scenes, it’s difficult to drink even a glass of water. One feels guilty and angry.
Do what we can
Weatherman has given us hope for a very good monsoon. Do not give up, but do what ‘we’ can. I share the story of what ‘we’ did to fulfil our human responsibility. ‘We’ are a team of six — Navjyoti India Foundation, a non-government organisation (NGO) working in more than 70 villages of Haryana’s Sohna belt; the KIIT Group of Colleges, Sohna; The Sehgal Foundation, NGO with technical expertise in rural development; three local government officers; and Delhi University’s Cluster Innovation Centre. ‘We’ decided to combine our strengths and start ‘Jal Kranti’ (water revolution).
How ‘we’ did it
Navjyoti has 20 years’ experience of promoting education, self-help groups, water-harvesting, and skill training in rural communities. The KIIT provided the participants with its academic hall and refreshment, besides rural academic expertise. It also assigned its videographer to document the event for wider awareness. The three government officers do it as their job, fighting the shortage of resources, in view of the scale of the challenge.
The Sehgal Foundation brought its technical expertise to the table. The fifth partner was an academic at Oxford with skills in project management. The Cluster Innovation Centre designed the questionnaire for data analysis. One of the 15 questions was to know how much the rural leadership knew about the government schemes being announced, some by the Prime Minister directly on radio. The survey results will throw up some interesting insights.
Villages not ready
Present in the audience were the sarpanches and panches of over 70 villages of the Sohna belt, invited to share their water-harvesting plans for the monsoon. We had asked them to come prepared and speak by turn. We had set up cash prizes for the best solution.
As we heard one village chief after another, it became evident that the village councils were not yet prepared or were still to gather to plan ahead in spite of the water crisis looming large, nationwide. Many of them had started having issues even before pre-monsoon. For instance, they said their ponds couldn’t take in rainwater because these were choked with the village sludge. So how will the rain water be harvested? Where do they divert it? They needed technical help.
The six partners responded to some of the issues with solutions but the absence of a concerted community plan was obvious. The village representatives seemed unorganised individuals. We did not see the community spirit in them.
Waiting for another Marathwada
None of them appeared impatient for solutions. It seemed they thought Marthwada couldn’t happen in their region. Even if it did, they did not seem worried. Was it because fetching water is woman’s burden?
The concept of shramdaan (voluntary labour by the youth and able-bodied to dig ponds and wells for saving water) was alien to them. They were banking on MNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme). No panchayat had any tree-plantation plan either.
Divided community
The team realised that ‘we’ could miss the possibility of harvesting a very good monsoon that is predicted. While there was no community bonding, there was no plan, enthusiasm, commitment, concern, skills, unity, confidence, or ownership either. Village communities are divided heavily on caste and faith lines. They belong to sects, not the village as a whole. We need the district collectors to make ‘we’ teams in every district — involving local NGOs, experts, forest and panchayat officials, students, and professional college youth to dig underground channels that will give them water even in a drought year.
Small window
The time is now, before the monsoon. Who knows when the next good one will come. Similarly for planting trees. Sehgal Foundation expert Lalit Sharma told the village representatives to prepare the pits now, with right plants identified. The ‘we’ teams of water collectors is the answer nationwide. The governments should be proactive in implementation. The coming together of professionals and the youth with a spirit of community service in their own villages is a must. The data analysis by the Cluster Innovation Centre experts is awaited. We will know what measures to take for community bonding. Haryana may offer us a model of community bonding for Jal Kranti.

Friday, April 22, 2016

As A Police Officer, Shaktiman Was Let Down

I am not sure if Shaktiman, our brave, handsome white horse of the Uttarakhand Mounted Police, had leg guards on when he was on duty when his leg was thrashed and he fell down and injured himself. 

We do not have proven evidence of what happened. The visuals are indicative but not conclusive. How the injury was caused is a matter of police investigation. The person suspected, a politician, was arrested and is currently on bail. He continues to deny he hit Shaktiman. 

We do not know the truth. We only have a gut feeling! 

But my question is: was Shaktiman, our brave mount, whom Maneka Gandhi addressed also as a police officer on duty, protected both on his face and legs to protect from getting hit or injured in case of stone-throwing? This is what mounted police gets in many countries - due protection.
 
If that was not done, then it was inadequate preparation for mounted police to be deployed to maintain law and order in such a volatile situation. 

Mounted Police has a distinct advantage when positioned correctly. It gives a higher visibility and allows walking on tracks which are not road-worthy. It's very good for patrolling, can walk inside parks, on beaches, in small lanes, or on undulating surfaces. But when crowds need to be dispersed, I am not sure we should use horses. It can hurt both people and horses.

For dispersal of crowds, we have better options. We have trained personnel for riot control who are reasonably protected with riot gear. We have tear gas shells. We have water canons. We have rubber bullets too, though these are rarely used. 

Mounted police is at risk when it is unguarded (face and lower limbs) as perhaps Shaktiman was, in a lawless, stone-throwing situation where even cops were hit.
 
I think it's time to restrict the deployment of Mounted Police where it can serve us as best such as ceremonials, patrolling the streets, small lanes, rural areas, and, of course, for visibility and confidence-building.  

Shaktiman's case also compels us to have a fresh look at our law...(sic!) The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. 

It's a shame that it has not been updated till now. 

Section 11 of the said Act says, ''If any person beats, kicks, overdrives, tortures, so as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering or causes, or being the owner to be so...Shall be punishable in case of a first offence with fine which shall be not less than ten rupees, but which may extend to fifty rupees and in the case of second or subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence with fine and shall not be less than twenty five rupees but which may extend to one hundred rupees or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or with both."

If our state assemblies and parliament do not legislate to keep up with the times, who does one complain to? Shaktiman's case also shames the legislatures to correct the law.

The Animal Board can also recommend appropriate changes (these may already be pending, who knows) to make the law effective, deterrent and respectable.

For now, the accused who has been arrested for cruelty to Shaktiman, if found guilty, will pay Rs. 10, maximum Rs. 50, since it may be his first offence. But the cost of his investigation and trial may run into thousands when measured against the time and effort invested by criminal justice system.

Besides the loss of majestic mount akin to a cop on law and order duty..the less said the better!
 
My own version of Shaktiman was Chandni, my 6-year-old horse who trained with me for nearly a year at the Police Training Academy in Mount Abu. We had riding classes every day and not once did she let me fall. Chandni was a very beautiful, well-behaved horse and there was a lot of mutual respect.

Kiran Bedi is the first woman to have joined officer ranks of Indian Police Service. Recipient of Magsaysay Award (1994) for police and prison reforms, she has also worked as a UN police advisor. A tennis champion, she earned a PhD from IIT Delhi and is a Nehru Fellow. She's founded many NGOs and is the author of several books.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ensuring right to life and security

Just because we in India are more than a billion people does not mean we let people die in blazes, collapsed bridges, stampedes, floods, riots or even while crossing the road. Life in that case will be highly unsafe.
Insecurity breeds fear that affects human development and creativity. The biggest hallmark of civilisation has been the guarantee of human security. Or else what is the difference between earlier jungle living and now urban setting? What is the point in living in gated communities, but once out of them being vulnerable to all kinds of risks? The key to ensuring safety and security is respecting and adhering to laws made by mankind. Right to life and security is our basic need.
To provide this basic right, a country secures its borders from external invasions. Alert soldiers ward off enemies from any intrusions even if it is at the cost of their lives. That is why we daily hear of brave encounters. Brave men and women in uniform keep awake so that we are not invaded. They protect our geographical boundaries. It is because of them that we sleep in peace.
Internal security
But what about internal security? Who are its soldiers? They are both in uniform and in plain clothes. They are the civil administration. They are specially selected, elected and appointed by people. If they fulfil their responsibilities honestly and sincerely and without fear or favour, people enjoy internal safety and security. It’s when they fail that people die in fire blazes, on roads, in floods or in other manmade disasters.
Internal security keepers must consider themselves akin to soldiers on the borders, envisioning what would happen if they fail their countrymen? We will be overrun by marauders who will come and exploit our vulnerable sections, rob us of our wealth and resources, enslave us and perhaps kill us too. Just as we expect our soldiers on the borders to secure our borders without being reminded to, we expect the local administration to be civil soldiers within, protecting and ensuring our internal safety.
Police, civil servants, elected or nominated or selected representatives are internal soldiers, whose duty is to guarantee internal security by doing their duty without fear or favour. Anyone coming in the way is the enemy of society and has to be dealt with as per laws.
Rules flouted
Had rules been followed, we would not have lost over a hundred lives at the Kerala temple with hundreds suffering from burns. It has left behind orphaned children and grieving families. If the district administration had denied permission to the temple authorities for fireworks, it was also their duty to prevent its violation by courageous enforcement. They failed in their duty to protect people as internal soldiers, which is a criminal breach of trust.
All manmade tragedies have a few common factors: Neglect of one’s duty, callous behaviour towards others’ safety, greed or highly selfish motives behind neglect, showing off of one’s pelf, power or position, taking risk at others’ cost and indifference to others’ suffering.
We, the billion-plus people, need to be a better humanity with a better sense of responsibility. We should have an enhanced consciousness towards our duties. We should respect human rights and live our lives for a higher purpose. We have got human life to do good, and not to injure and destroy others. Let’s be trustworthy civil soldiers to serve humanity, and protect our people with the same courage and patriotism with which our armed forces protect our borders.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Had predicted Kolkata flyover collapse, writes Kiran Bedi

I had anticipated the collapse of the Kolkata flyover on one of the recent visits to the city and asked it on Twitter who was in charge of this ghost structure. Left unattended for years, the rusting, concrete juggernaut without a workman near it was just waiting to cave in. It had to take lives to let the world know it was dying.
Cases would be registered and a few company officials arrested but no one would say a word about the other public servants (political or non-political) responsible for the oversight. We’ll hear public statements that they will spare no culprit and compensate the families of the victims. Then politicians will descend on the scene. It has become a predictable drill.
When under pressure, politicians wait for the next disaster or the public memory to fade. In our subcontinent, disasters occur too frequently for the general public to keep track of all. They who must be held accountable will never be.
Bureaucrats first
The clean-up should start with the public works department, from the lowest secretary to the highest bureaucrat. It was their duty to oversee the work, clear the bills, do regular site inspection, audit/test the material, and ensure that safety standards were followed. How many times since 2008 did they review the project? We do not know, nor will we get to know, unless we file an RTI. It will be months before we get the information, which will be incomplete and not of much help.
Files will show where the matter was kept pending at the administrative and political levels. The construction company went bankrupt within a year of the project, so blame will be shifted to it, without transparency and accountability, even though many politicians also deserve to go to jail over this.
Leaders retract
Can the area legislator and MP be held accountable? I heard the MP say on television that monitoring the rusting flyover was not his job. The Trinamool MP of Kolkata North said that by the time the flaws had come to his notice, 60% of the work had been over. He forgot what he owed to his voters. Did they pick him or his party? No one knows. No one can ask. No one will reply.
What about CM’s accountability?
As CEO her government, is West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee not supposed to review the progress of pending projects for public safety? But she said on TV that her predecessors had awarded the contract and it is they who should be asked why they had hired a blacklisted company.
Information in the public domain suggests that she knew the company was untrustworthy. The question is who will dare to ask her what her government had been doing for almost five years? No one can. She has already put the blame o the company and washed her hands off it.
Opposition not innocent either
How about the Opposition parties who also seek votes? Did they protest to seek time-bound completion of the project? If they did, when and to what effect? Did they persevere, or gave up? They can say it’s best to protest when the structure has collapsed, not when it is collapsing. Imagine the votes the tragedy will get them. They say the Opposition’s accountability is never certain; tell them so is the case with public vote.
Public guilty, too?
Cities have their media and citizen groups for taking up causes. Did they find out what the government was up to? I fear they, too, will turn around and say: “O’ please, we do only campaigns like marathons, environment runs, save the tiger, school charity (that don’t question the government).”
It’s not safe for the local media to ask the government uncomfortable questions. Then who will? Who killed the people?
The hand of God?
Did the voter under the bridge not have the duty to exercise safety? Was it the hand of God, as a company executive said, as another man on TV said: “The state anyway is run by God.” Since God is neither visible not accessible, how do we make God accountable? But the case should not be closed. The challenge is to fix responsibility.
@SivadasTV2, who follows me on Twitter, had the following suggestion. I think it’s worth considering. “Pass a law requiring all elected representatives to file a monthly intelligence report on illegal activities in their constituencies.” Will the voter demand it? But again, from whom? They who do not understand the words ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’? India begs for accountability, from its corporate houses, public servants, and appointed and elected representatives.
Will the judiciary take suo-motu notice?