As the car climbs up a hilly road amid the rocky landscape of Manipur, Union land resources secretary Vandana Jena remembers her days here in 1981. “Civic infrastructure, roads were almost non-existent. It was a four hours back-breaking journey to Ukhrul from Imphal. No work in the evening as diesel-generated power went off after 5 pm. There was no water supply either,” she said. Back then Jena was Ukhrul’s sub divisional officer.
Sitting in his first office in Musahari — the birthplace of Naxal movement in Bihar — parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah could easily remember his stint as a young assistant magistrate 34 years ago. The rot in the system, frustrating corruption and lack of civic amenities had haunted people then. “Now, little has changed,” quips Amanullah.
It was a different ‘ghar wapsi’ — or return to the roots — for top-notch bureaucrats last month. As planned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, all secretary-level officers working with the central government went back to their first place of posting to review its progress.
The tours (HT accompanied three bureaucrats in as many states) threw up mixed revelations: There was palpable progress in road and tele-connectivity, agriculture and income of villagers. But in many places social infrastructures like school, health-care or toilets still remain in the dark ages.
Eighty-odd secretaries would be giving detail reports to the Prime Minister’s Office on how their first areas of posting fared in development over time.
Information and broadcasting secretary Bimal Julka was happy to see a weaver colony which he had set up in 1981 in Madhya Pradesh’s Ashok Nagar thriving and helping locals generate substantial income. “There were only ramshackle huts. Now almost everyone has pucca house. There is an all-weather road to Guna with a railway over bridge.”
Coal secretary Anil Swarup also has a tale of success to share while visiting Tamkuhiraj tehsil in UP’s Kushinagar district: “It’s unbelievable to see so many girls cycling to schools. Back in the 80’s, when I was posted in Padrauna, there were just a handful of girls attending schools.” Swarup joined the elite Indian Administrative Service with first posting at UP’s Kushinagar as joint magistrate.
But these policy-makers also find that despite hundreds of government schemes running in paper, there are little or shoddy implementation in most of them.
Amanullah is the only Bihar cadre secretary-level officer now working at the centre. In Narauli, he visits a cluster of Indira Awas Yojna — the scheme for housing for poor — only to find that the entire colony has not a single toilet. Nearby lied Prahladpur, a village where a central grant of `32 lakh went back unspent due to non-utilisation.
Julka too, hardly found toilets as he toured an entire division: “Hygiene and cleanliness was far from satisfactory even in the government offices. School buildings are also in bad shape. There is an acute shortage of doctors and medical staff in local government hospitals and health centres.”
“During our field visit, when we had to stay the night at some village home, we had to go out in the open to attend to nature’s call,” says Jena. She, however, spots many village homes now with a toilet. Similarly, Swarup visited Bandhu Chapra, once notorious for anti-social elements, and finds dramatic changes with pucca roads, a majority of the children going to school, houses under Indira Awas Yojana. “There are tubewells at regular intervals,” said Swarup.
These reports, albeit local stories are likely to give reference points to the PMO while it shapes newer strategies. But in most of the cases, thrust areas of different governments like hygiene and cleanliness, e-governance, employment, etc. still lies in the dim shadow of underdevelopment.