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.

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