Reading Lately

Participative Governance in District Administration (Memoirs of Collector Raigarh)

Author : Dr Nipun Vinayak



  • Pages:164
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9352072766
  • ISBN-13: 978-9352072767

In an era where cynicism for the system in general and  Indian Administrative  Service (IAS) officers in particular is a pandemic across the country, Dr Nipun Vinayaks’s memoirs of his tenure as District Collector in Raigarh, Maharashtra comes as a breath of fresh air. IAS officers have a penchant for writing their memoirs post retirement, this one  Participative Governance in District Administration has been penned by a serving officer and is a refreshing change as it does not delve into self glorification and instead objectively summarises the issues prevailing in the district. In their foreword the champions of Right to Information Act in India, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey describe the author as one of the “exceptional and rare committed officers”and set the tone for what is an extremely perceptive, sensitive and reasoned account of some extremely complex issues before any young administrative officer in the district today.

The author in his role as a district administrator displays a keen power of understanding the issues of the people across sectors and schemes as well as an insight into the workings of administration. His uncanny ability to go into the details, separate the grain from the chaff, understand the mind-set of not just the local people but also of key civil society organisations as well as senior bureaucrats, display exceptional “faith in the wisdom” of the local people make this book a must read for all interested in the working of district administration and present and future district administrators. Nipun Vinayak belongs to that rare breed of officers who have un-learnt several “principles” of bureaucratic administration and projected themselves not as “providers” but as ” facilitators” in the system. He is not wrong when he describes himself as a “social physician and the running motif through the book is that of an administrator willing to reach out to all rungs of society in order to maximise “good” for the people.

As the title suggests the book delves into the subject of Participative Governance across sectors and programmes in not just a theoretical manner, but by illustrating the implementation of the principles of participatory democracy at the  grass root level . Participative Governance is the central thread which runs through the entire book as  the author’s narrative takes words like transparency, accountability and participatory democracy out of the shrouds of conceptual papers  to the citizenry.

The book deals with the extremely challenging and controversial subject of land acquisition under the erstwhile Land Acquisition Act 1984. It also enumerates the experience of the District Collector in implementing programmes and schemes.Right from its inception at the time of  Warren Hastings the post of the District Collector has been the keystone in public administration. Although the bureaucratic and administrative systems have undergone considerable transformation and transition the post of Collector has retained its relevance and significance. As this book illustrates in all its chapters, when a District Collector has courage of conviction, clarity of thought, faith in the principles enshrined in the constitution and democratic processes momentous changes can be made within the existing system as well.

Land is the over riding theme in the book, a greater part of the part of the book deals with the process of land acquisition and resolution of disputes related to land. Land revenue is the pivotal responsibility of district administration  or “revenue administration across the country. Land acquisition has in the last few years become an extremely complex and challenging area for all levels of governance.

In the first part of the book Vinayak illustrates the story what can be called India’s first referendum on land acquisition for the Maha Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for a private company. Much has been written and said about the issues surrounding the land acquisition in Singur (West Bengal), POSCO (Odisha) and Niyamgiri hills (Odisha). The narrative is  a first-hand account of the entire process of reaching out to the affected people of Raigarh and soliciting their opinion on the land acquisition process. Stating  that this referendum will have a far reaching impact on policy makers and legislators who chart out the course of land acquisition in India would be stating the obvious. But for the 71000 people in 45 villages whose land was to be acquired this referendum obviously had life changing impact.Such was the result of the process that eventually the entire process had to be shelved. The book elucidates the details of the process and analyses the methodology adopted as well as the role of the various players in the process. The underlying theme in these chapters are the tremendous possibilities before a sensitive administrator willing to think out-of-the-box and yet stay within the confines of the legal system in order to implement an “unpopular law” while strictly adhering to the principles of natural justice.

In the remaining part of the book the author delves into issues pertaining to land disputes, implementation of the MGNREGA , tribal welfare, relevance of agriculture and importance of simplifying the implementation system through use of e-Governance.

At a  time when legal disputes are growing exponentially and the legal system bursting at its seams with un-decided legal cases the methodology expounded by Vinayak in the chapter on the Tanta Mukti Abhiyan or an alternative dispute resolution system by co-opting local wisdom and synthesising it with  modern day law is exemplary. By demystifying the land revenue laws and involving the entire revenue machinery in the process, this abhiyan exemplifies how the participatory processes can be applied to regulatory framework of administration as well. Through a strategically planned and closely monitored mechanism the author in his role as District Collector was able to demonstrate a system that can have far reaching impact on putting in place a “sustainable people led justice system” as well as working to prevent legislation by freeing the people from the clutches of the grass root revenue machinery by empowering them through a process of educative workshops.

In the chapter on Working with Katkaris ( a tribal group in Maharashtra) the author illustrates how the two acts MGNREGA and the Forest Rights Act can be subverted by an indifferent administrative system as well as implemented effectively by a system which appreciates the spirit behind these acts. As Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey point out in their foreword, much has been written by economists and civil rights activists on these two acts but very little by those tasked with the actual implementation of these acts. Vinayak’s analysis is therefore an insight into the real issues that crop up before young administrators today. One of the most commonly used reasons for poor implementation of the MGNREGA is the absence of “demand for work”.Through careful planning and working in close co-ordination with civil society organisations, the author was able to get past these administratively created hurdles and use MGNREGA as a means of empowering brick klin workers and the katkaris. What is demonstrated in this chapter is the necessity of changing the “mindset” of administrators before actually undertaking the process of involving people. As collector the author was able to take up the rights of forest dwellers by convincing the lower administrative officials that this was a “God given opportunity to do service”.

Agro-tourism is enunciated in the penultimate chapter.This is probably one of the most striking examples of an administrator marrying his knowledge of newly emerging sectors like tourism with the age old practices of agriculture. Despite the urbanisation and industrialisation, agriculture remains the key to India’s economic development. Vinayak displays a keen insight into the problems of this sector and makes an innovative attempt to find a solution to these problems. By recognising and attempting to learn from local innovators the author highlights the necessity of breaking out of the mindset of finding solutions from the top.

E-Governance is a rapidly expanding sector in India and it is believed that by doing away with human interface at the cutting edges of the administrative system, a lot of corruption and inefficiency can be weeded out. However there is an inherent systemic resistance to e-Governance. In the chapter on e-Governance ,the author goes to the root of the malaise and identifies the reasons for employee apathy. Many a project has failed to deliver effectively because no efforts were made to communicate with, involve and motivate the staff. Vinayak understands that government employees will remain the “face” of the government and no amount of involvement of “consultants” and /or “private” players can replace their relevance and role.
Through the book Vinayak displays extreme humaneness and sensitivity to the needs of the people. He comes across as a pro-active administrator willing to learn at all times from those working at the grass roots as well as in civil society . One of the refreshing aspects of this book is the authors genuine appreciation of government employees and his attempts to involve them in ensuring delivery of services and proper implementation of schemes by creating a “sense of ownership” in them. His sincerity of purpose is apparent in the manner in which the programmes were executed.The book is an optimistic account of a passionate officer who by his own admission used the 3 P approach of participation, partnership and passion in his job as District Collector. It makes for easy reading yet compels the reader to think about the complexities of governance. The leitmotif of the book can be defined by the author himself when he states “passion needs no explanation”. This is indeed a passionate account by an officer driven by passion for his work with the people. A must read for anyone in administration.




Happy Birthday Mr Bond

Ruskin Bond, author of several books and the person who made me love the mountains through his words turns 82. For generations, Ruskin Bond has entertained children and adults with his own expressive brand of writing. My childhood in particular was filled with thoughts of Shyamli, Landour, Dehra and  Mussoorie. Through his words I discovered and visited these places and unravelled the stories of graveyards, mountains, deodar trees and relived the lives of Rusty and Binya.

His heart-warming stories about love, nature, trees, friendship, affection, travel, innocence packed my childhood with lots of happy moments. Even before I visited Landour, I seemed to know every bend in the hills and every shop in Char Dukan because I had seen it through his eyes. His characters have a certain endearing quality to them, making them real and almost a part of you. What I personally love about his writings are his descriptions of nature. Through his words you can almost feel the chill of the mist, the sharpness of a mountain breeze, hear the gurgling of a stream and relive the life he describes in small town India.

When I first saw him on a visit to our school, I was quite overwhelmed. Here was the man who had made me fall in love with his books, I had spent many an afternoon curled up with his books, cut off from the world, and now face to face with him, I had nothing to say to him!

In a world where blogging and tweeting have taken over and the shelves of crossword lined with newer authors every month, Ruskin Bond  has remained a favourite of many with his wit and way with words.

Happy Birthday Sir, may your words and images continue to captivate the minds and imaginations of your readers forever.