Parida’s legacy as Chandigarh adviser a mixed bag of hits and misses
As UT adviser Manoj Parida gets transferred to Delhi, his two-and-a-half-year stint in Chandigarh will be remembered for its hits and misses in the city’s struggle against Covid-19.
Parida had joined as adviser in December 2018 and little was known at the time about him except that as the chief secretary, Puducherry, he had gotten into a public spat with former lieutenant governor of Puducherry and former inspector general of Chandigarh Police Kiran Bedi.
A little over a year into his tenure as UT adviser, Covid hit. As the pandemic unfolded, Parida’s detractors squarely put the blame on him for the administration’s many flip flops, which they alleged created confusion and uncertainty among residents.
Questions were raised over the administration’s performance in home delivery of essential commodities. UT couldn’t even spend half the central government allotted for Covid management. However, the administration’s management of the Bapu Dham Colony containment zone—the Covid epicentre last year—elicited some appreciation in a report by the World Health Organisation.
During the pandemic, particularly the first wave, a trigger-happy Parida on Twitter attracted both bouquet and brickbats even from those not living in the city. His daily interactions with Twitterati became a platform for information, feedback for administration and also entertainment for some owing to his quirky responses.
Bringing in NGOS for Covid management
During the second wave, when the city was severely struggling with beds for Covid patients, Parida’s idea of inviting NGOs for establishing mini Covid centres clicked, bringing major relief to the beleaguered city. UT’s oxygen management also got a pat on the back from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Poor coordination with Punjab and Haryana on covid management, and public spat with PGIMER also marked his tenure during the pandemic. Till the second wave subsided, availability of ICU beds remained problematic.
Parida’s colleagues, who are senior IAS officers, termed him a quick decision maker. “He never hesitated to take tough decisions during the pandemic. He also gave freedom to his officers to make decisions and backed them,” said a secretary-rank IAS officer, who worked with Parida during his deputation in the city.
Uneasy relationship with BJP
His not-so-friendly relationship with the ruling political dispensation continued in Chandigarh too. “He was not accessible to the party leaders and at times didn’t even respond to their calls,” claimed a senior BJP leader, who didn’t want to be named.
The BJP leaders also blamed him for the water tariff hike controversy. “We consented to a marginal tariff hike, but didn’t expect it to be done during the peak of the pandemic. He played a key role in that,” said the leader.
A senior IAS officer, who also worked with Parida, gave a counterview: “He was clear from the start that water tariff hike rollback was a political decision and didn’t interfere.”
Many insiders within the administration also observed an undercurrent of unease between Parida and UT administrator VP Singh Badnore, particularly, during the second Covid wave. But unlike Puducherry, the alleged tension never came out in the public here.
Of rankings and achievements
Parida leaves behind many unresolved issues like poor solid waste management, which kicked the City Beautiful out of the top 10 cleanest cities in the country. In the ease of doing business rankings, too, the city was stuck at the bottom. In the Sustainable Development Goal 2021 ranking, though, the city topped among the UTs during his tenure.
The Tribune flyover issue remained unresolved and no progress was made on urgent public transport issues like mass road transport system and the outer ring road. The administration was also pulled up by the Punjab and Haryana high court for the “rushed” move of power privatisation.
Parida said, “Controlling the pandemic was a big challenge, which I am happy that I overcame. It was an unprecedented situation, and nobody knew what to expect. Most of the smart city work had not started but took off during my tenure. We also bought 150 long-route buses for CTU. Recruitments were done. Police started an e-beat system. The financial situation of MC has improved.”
Parida, who will return to Delhi after two and a half years, takes over as the chairman of the National Authority of Chemical Weapons Convention.