The Tirunelveli administration, under Nanduri, has created 106 community soak pits where wastewater collected from households is processed through filtration systems and used to recharge the groundwater in the rain-deprived district.
More often than not, the Indian bureaucracy is perceived as unresponsive to the needs of the ordinary citizen, more so at the grass-roots. But, as the winners of The Indian Express Excellence in Governance (EIG) Awards 2019 have shown, district administrations can bring in transformative change if they were to get innovative on governance delivery and address gaps in the existing mechanism. This, in the long run, can mean the difference between penury and prosperity of the communities they serve. All 16 district magistrates who spearheaded the interventions that won them the EIG honour—chosen from 249 entries from 84 districts in 24 states—surmounted legacy problems; some used technology, some human capital, but all had an out-of-the-box solution.
Kartikeya Misra took on joblessness and lack of connectivity in East Godavari in Andhra Pradesh when he was posted there as the district magistrate. Both problems had fed extremism in the Maoist-affected district for long. Recognising the lack of skilling in these parts and the fact that there were many jobs paying Rs 10,000-20,000 for which employers were unable to find talent, the district administration under Misra arranged for job-specific, short-term training. Under this, 25,000 people have been trained—some with industry participation—and 18,000 placed in a range of jobs, from priesthood to network analysis and from TV repair to fruit/vegetable carving.
There has been a domino effect on empowerment; young women from very poor families in Chinturu, a remote tribal area, trained under the Kaushal Godavari initiative, now work at the assembly line at Foxconn’s unit in Nellore. Had it not been for the training they received and the resulting income for their families, they say, they would have never been allowed out of home and would have been married off early. Misra’s second initiative digitally connected largely inaccessible tribal hamlets, roping in Google X’s Free Space Optical Communications technology powered by the state’s public sector fibre grid network. With mobile and internet connectivity, villagers who had to walk 8-10 kilometres to contact the nearest government official now consult government doctors or register a grievance with a government official over video-calls. Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu) district collector Sandeep Nanduri got the district to use its MGNREGS money for sustainability, in a manner that challenges the conventional, rather deadened thinking on the use of the funds.
The Tirunelveli administration, under Nanduri, has created 106 community soak pits where wastewater collected from households is processed through filtration systems and used to recharge the groundwater in the rain-deprived district. CR Kharsan, the district collector of Valsad, Gujarat, implemented e-Megh, a sonar-based early flood warning system, for Auranga river that experiences annual flooding. e-Megh, an IoT system, integrates the sonar river gauge with hooters at four most vulnerable locations—any alarming rise in water levels activates the hooters within 10 seconds and gives the administration, with real-time SMS, two hours to act before the flood hits.
In 2016, over 26 people lost their lives from the Auranga flooding swathes of Valsad town; in 2017, 14 people died. But, in 2018, because of the early warning system, there were no deaths, and the district administration was able to evacuate a 1,000 people this year, too. While these are a few examples of the immense good that can be delivered to citizens when district administrations get creative, there are likely many such innovative approaches afoot.
The government, both the Centre and the states, needs to recognise these and offer maximum support. Wherever possible, these game-changing “pilots and experiments” need to be scaled up/replicated. Change at the grass-roots will need change-makers like those whom the EIG awards celebrate.