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 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.