The karmayogi device unplugged

By Rajiv Shah
Early this week, one of the senior-most state bureaucrats in Gandhinagar Sachivalaya was suddenly summoned by Gujarat chief secretary AK Joti for an urgent meeting on scarcity conditions prevailing in the state. Sitting in his chamber, I innocently wondered whether there was any urgency. Ruefully, this bureaucrat, who would make tall claims for being “close” to chief minister Narendra Modi, angrily told me, before moving out of the room, “This will be another long meeting without substance. The entire district-level administration has collapsed. Everyone is busy with Modi’s melas and yatras, which he has been undertaking across Gujarat with an eye on December assembly elections. Nobody has time for anything else, least of all for helping people suffering from scarcity conditions. Be it district collector or district development officer, mamlatdar or taluka development officer, or even the village talati, all speak nothing but melas and yatras. Very few have any idea of the situation prevailing on the ground. They hardly get any time to interact with common people and understand issues.”
The bureaucrat was referring to the crowds sought to be collected for 106 Gharib Kalyan melas currently being organized for Modi. Modi addresses 23 each Saturday sitting at his cozy residence. His speeches are relayed live on LED screens, each as huge as 8x10 feet, via satellite-communication network. Each LED has been hired for Rs 47,000 per day, a paltry sum considering hundreds of crores said to have been spent from coffers on Modi’s personal publicity. “Modi appears to have tasted blood. He now finds LED great. His first LED experiment was during the Krishi Mahotsav in May, when 140 LEDs were used daily for more than three weeks at the same price”, the irritated bureaucrat said. Between the weekly melas, daily Vanthanbhi Vikas yatra programmes -- 4,242 of them -- are on, six each day in as many villages, where Modi is being projected in a similar way to showcase how development under him is an unending process. Seventy ministers and BJP politicians attend each. All of it is to culminate into a Sarpanch maha-sammelan in September third week, where he will announce more doles – especially to villages which elected representatives unopposed and became “samras”.
When this bureaucrat was telling me to how the state administration, especially at the grassroots level, has come to a standstill, I was tempted to scan through recent documents prepared by Modi’s administration for internal circulation. Meant for annual bureaucratic conclave, Chintan Shibir, one of them admitted that there was a complete breakdown in taluka-level administration because those who are required to run it are “overworked”. The district collector’s office is unable to cope with taluka issues because it, too, is burdened with work other than what it is required to do – land management. Put out two years ago, it says, the problem has been aggravated as there is sharp shortage of taluka officials – taluka development officers (TDOs) by 30.18%, deputy TDOs by 38.09%, talatis by 24.18%, mamlatdars by 32%, deputy mamlatdars by 24.13%, deputy collectors by 18.75%. Taluka coordination committees, which are supposed to work in close coordination with the district administration to solve people’s problems, seldom meet. Same is the case with taluka planning committees and taluka vigilance committees. The district collector is supposed to ensure they work in a well-oiled manner by making on-the-spot visits and staying back at night in villages, but they seldom do.
Significantly, the report complains that the district collector’s office is flooded with works which it is not supposed to do, and the staff doesn’t know what to prioritize – water supply, housing for the poor, development of polluted areas, development of tourism spots, government securities and assets, education campaigns like Gunotsav and Kanya Kelavani, krishi mahotsavs, village-level gram sabhas, jan seva kendras, Swarnim Gujarat sankalp jyoti yatra, implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and Suvarna Jayanti Rozgar Yojna. Even the monitoring mechanism, operating from Gandhinagar, is not functioning. Revenue inspections are seldom carried out. Of the 232 mamlatdars’ offices, inspection was carried out for just 62 once in five years, of 232 taluka panchyats for just 66 once in five years, and of 55 prant offices for 30 once in three years. “Recommendations do not matter. Nobody cares. No corrective measures are taken”, the report underlines, pointing out how whopping 51,556 cases of investigation remain to be completed, and nobody knows when things will end. In a glaring example of local indifference, the report suggests how land revenue recovery has gone slow – in 1999-2000, it was 42%, which went down to less than 25% in 2009-10.
In a cope-up effort, Modi came up with a new idea called Taluka Sarkar, putting up 112 class one officers, each in charge of two talukas. But if Modi’s babus are to be believed, the concept has been a non-starter ever since it was floated in 2010. To quote a senior official, “There is just one activity so far – the signboard has changed to Apno Taluko Vibrant Taluko or ATVT. All 112 class one officials were picked up from elsewhere and put in the new establishment, creating shortage of senior staff at the other place. They were given extra staff – about a dozen – intensifying the shortage even further. They are meant to monitor developmental work at the grassroots and report back to Gandhinagar, but they do nothing except organizing Modi’s melas and yatras. Established offices do not listen to them, while panchayats believe they are an infringement into their right to overlook developmental work.” ATVT, interestingly, was established, to quote from a document, as “taluka officials and staff are generally found to be irregular in attending office. Nor are they visible in the field to oversee developmental activities. There is lack of coordination between different government agencies.” It talks of “duplication of development programmes”, and the administration being “ill-prepared for disaster management”, especially in “backward talukas.”
When I was scanning through these documents, I wondered: What has happened to Modi’s karmayogi maha-abhiyan, begun in 2003, to infuse life into an allegedly dead administration, and about which there was so much publicity. Or, is there no need for the abhiyan now? Has it collapsed or served its purpose? This year, there has not been any Chintan Shibir, Modi’s top-level bureaucrat conclave. The departmental Chintan Shibirs, which used to be held on every drop of a hat, both in Gandhinagar as well as in districts and talukas, have stopped. If Modi’s chief karmayogi, principal secretary, education, Hasmukh Adhia, who organized the maha-abhiyan, is to be believed, the babudom itself is to be blamed for the prevailing indifference. In a recent book, “Notes to My Self”, he says, babus are failing to work with “challenge and responsibility”, even as ignoring the “role of human factor in effective delivery system”. He finds “helplessness, work avoidance, risk aversion” and “futility of working over-enthusiastically in government” as characterizing the top state babudom. He underlines how “while a few lower level employees struggle with the malfunctioning of Xerox machines and computers after officer hours, the top boss leaves in time not to miss his golf session.” Refusing to blame bureaucratic inertia on political class, Adhia defends the political bosses saying, “Haven’t we heard many politicians complain about the slow-moving bureaucracy?”

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