In yet another sign of proactively ensuring the bureaucracy is in touch with rural India, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has instructed bureaucrats on field duty to visit villages from October 25 to 27 to mingle with farmers and infuse a sense of hope in them at a time when the state is facing an agrarian crisis.
The chief minister has for years been pushing his ministers and officers, including secretaries and principal secretaries in the state secretariat, to regularly visit villages in a bid to feel the pulse of the rural sections of the state and speedily redress grievances of villagers. He has also been asking the officers on field duty to spend a few nights at the villages at regular intervals.
Back in January 2008 too, Chouhan had asked collectors during an interaction with them via video conference to spend a couple of nights at the block and tehsil headquarters.
However, this is the first time he has asked IAS, IPS and IFS officers to visit the villages and also fixed the dates of their visit.
It’s still not yet clear if the chief minister’s instructions include compulsory night stay as well. Leading by example, Chouhan himself spent the night at the villages he visited, but there hardly is a perceptible change in the bureaucracy’s functioning vis-à-vis his instructions.
As per official sources, the chief minister orders have often fallen on deaf ears of his administrative officers.
Given their aloof attitude, an annoyed Chouhan has once chided his officers asking them to leave their air conditioned rooms in Vallabh Bhavan to visit rural parts of the state. It is perhaps for this reason that the chief minister has fixed the dates for their visit this time.
But the bureaucrats have their own point of view.
A senior bureaucrat requesting anonymity said the officers’ visit to the villages was a welcome step. However, he added that it was not that the administrative officers and collectors never visited the villages, but could only do so infrequently because of their preoccupations.
“As far as night stay at the villages is concerned, it may be a symbolic gesture but it didn’t serve any practical purpose. The villagers are in the habit of going to bed a bit early, hence officials can not interact with them from about 9-10 pm to 7-8 am. There is another problem at the villages - the absence of good toilets. Hence, it’s better that the officials stay at the nearest rest houses and visit the villages in the morning,” the officer said.
Retired additional chief secretary Ajit Raizada said it was a very good move and would certainly make a dent to some extent at the ground level.
He said the officials these days have to deal with the implementation and monitoring of a plethora of schemes and the file work that comes with them - which they couldn’t avoid otherwise the work would come to a standstill. This is why, Raizada said, they couldn’t spare much time to visit rural areas.
Nonetheless, he suggested a plan could still be chalked by the officers to pay regular visit to rural areas.