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.




In Service of the Nation

For the last few weeks the newspapers have been filled with paeans written on those who cracked the Civil Services Exam this year.Their struggles, hard-work and triumph have found their way to interviews, motivational articles and congratulatory messages from friends and family. Needless to say, the Civil Services  still remains one of the most sought after careers and success in this exam,enough to make heroes out of the most unknown students. Amongst the services, the IAS still remains the first choice of hundreds of applicants who apply for this exam. As the electronic media beams down success stories and documents stories of their perseverance and determination you can almost see the stars in their eyes as they elaborate the trials they faced while preparing for the exam and the joy felt in finally making it into the hallowed portals of what is known as the premier service of India. What makes it one of the most sought after careers? The power as most would like to believe? The surety of a stable career( mostly) as those who decry the service often point out? Or is it something else? Something deeper?

Ten years ago when as starry-eyed new recruits into the service we walked in through the imposing gates of the  Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie most of us did not know what being a part of the service meant and what lay before us. Amidst the mist covered mountains and the towering pine trees we set out on this new journey being trained by some wonderful senior officers. During the course of this training we were fortunate to meet and interact with some of the finest officers of the country and listen to their stories about making a difference. Their was a lot of idealism in the batch;90 young men and women waiting for a chance to go out into the world and live thier dreams of being part of the system.

Through the classes and the lectures, the horse riding and the long runs, friendships were forged and the interactions served as an insight into what can be called some of the brightest young minds in the country. The zeal and enthusiasm in the batch was infectious, each one of us was eager to get into the “field” and get into full time administration. I believe that the enthusiasm has remained the same year after year and I am sure that the batch that joins this year will feel the same thrill and excitement that was a part of us during our days in Mussoorie.

The Indian Administrative Service to my mind presents the broadest canvas to any young officer. The opportunities to make a difference are tremendous. While the debates on the merits of generalists and specialists  and technocrats and bureaucrats rage in the country, in remote corners of India, in villages and small towns, young ,dynamic officers are dealing with complex issues and providing solutions for development  in sectors like health, education, water supply , irrigation, micro credit . The cynics may point out aberrations and try and paint the government system as lethargic and inefficient but there are several unsung officers working tirelessly, implementing plans and projects, delivering and providing help and succour in extremely harsh and difficult circumstances. There are very few jobs that provide the kind of diverse opportunities as are available to an IAS officer in a district; the ability to reach out to people across sectors and provide relief and make a life changing difference is unique probably to the IAS. The experience is enriching and rewarding both professionally and personally.

Sure the negative news stories paint a dismal picture of a corrupt system populated by suppliant ,pliable officers. Probably, very few stories of upright, sincere and hardworking officers do not make the headlines the way the negative ones do. That’s not to say the latter do not exist. Anonymity was an attribute of a officer in the colonial bureaucratic system and officers are not meant to be in the front lines. But an active media and the social media has ensured that more recently some stories of tireless striving and passion do make it to the mainstream.

Over generations there have been officers who have in the most trying circumstances worked for improving the system where ever they have been posted. I hope as the new batch walks into the hallowed portals of the LBSNAA this year, they too keep their dreams and beliefs alive and strive to make a difference in whichever sector they are posted.There is a blank canvas before them,it is now upto them to paint it in the colours that benefit the nation.