Our Managing Editor Mr. Narendra Shah conducted One 2 One Interview Session. With Mrs. Chhavi Bharadwaj, 2008 Batch IAS officer currently serving as Managing Director, Madhya Pradesh Metro Rail Corporation Limited.
Here are the edited excerpts: –
Narendra Shah (NS): Our first question to you – ‘You are famous as a corruption – buster IAS officer’. How does it feel? What pain and efforts you had been through to have this reputation and how difficult it has been?
Chhavi Bharadwaj (CB): The perception is built up because of an incident happened that happened few years back. Every officer in his tenure in his/her capacity tries to bring significant change in the society. The kind of value system I am bought up with never allows compromising with corruption (small or large).
NS: You spent more than 02 years as a collector in a district which saw 15 officers in the last 17 years. That shows your grit and commitment. What had been your strategy after being appointed as Collector at Dindori – The district with an infamous repute on part of governance and work culture?
CB: Dindori is one of the most important beautiful and a backward tribal area of Madhya Pradesh. It also provides a lot of space and latitude for an officer to work. The people living there really appreciate the efforts to bring basic civil amenities. The reason for that is that people living there were deprived of basic amenities for a long time. The amenities like road connectivity, infrastructure is very crucial to a community. In my tenure, I did my best as an officer to bring change there. I can say that the two years I spent there were one of the best I had in my career.
NS: Do you think there has been any significant change in the working of government departments in the last few years as far as project delays and work culture is concerned. What would you like to say about a required change in working scenario in the country? Do you feel any necessity towards it?
CB: I believe there have been some significant changes with the passage of time. Earlier we had a very longish and procedure bound method of implementing and monitoring projects. There was a lot of red tape and trained incapacity in the government. The bureaucracy was blamed for not understanding the context enough. However, I have seen significant changes happening at our level to avoid red-tapism.
NS: Metro projects in Bhopal & Indore has already been delayed. The project cost of Bhopal Metro has already risen by 50% of its actual cost. What as new MD of MPMRCL would be your priority in this regard? What are your plans for meeting the deadlines?
CB: I don’t agree with the fact that cost has risen by 50 per cent. However, I do agree with the delay which happened primarily due to the pandemic and also the organisation did not have a full-time Managing Director. At this point of time, we are looking at 30.5 kms of Bhopal metro and another 31 kms of Indore metro with a priority corridor for 7 kms and 17 kms for Indore metro. We have set a target for flagging off the first set of trains at the priority corridors for both metros by 2023. The good thing is that we have already started awarding the tenders for work like rolling stock and we are hopeful that work will be completed within the designated time of 2 years from now.
NS: Can we expect smart transport system in few other cities of M.P. with yourself being the managing director of implementing agency for the same in the state? Is there any update on greater Gwalior Metro which had been under discussion and long demanded?
CB: We are exploring several options like deploying a consultancy firm for a comprehensive mobility plan for all the five major cities as it will explore options like multi-modal transportation systems and trip generation. We are aware that we have almost a 30 km narrow gauge ROW in Gwalior metro. It is very rare to find such a narrow gauge in the middle of the city. We are currently studying the model of Nashik metro which is identical to Gwalior. It is noteworthy that Gwalior city will have a metro lite, unlike Nashik metro which has heavy metro. We are also exploring the option of connecting a metropolitan city like Indore with satellite towns like Ujjain, Mau etc. An idea of connecting cities like Bhopal and Indore through a high-speed corridor is also being explored which will also bring urbanisation into perspective. The potential of RRTS-MRTS is also a viable option to connect the cities
NS: You have worked as Commissioner, Municipal Corporation Bhopal. How do you see your tenure over there apart from bagging for Bhopal, the status of the second cleanest city of India in Swacchta Sarvekshan in 2018? Do you feel satisfied with your work as commissioner over there?
CB: Satisfaction is a very subjective thing. The most important thing I learned in Bhopal is municipal finance and a dire need to complete objectives. I believe the cities in India require substantial investment in infrastructure and urban services in the years to come. As municipal commissioner in Bhopal, I tried to rationalize the budgetary planning in the corporation. We tried to look for avenues that could strengthen the inherent resource raising capacity for Bhopal. We tried to rue the system for the collection of property tax and water tax. There was a very alarming situation in the city where we spent 90 crore rupees annually for supplying water in households, but the revenue raised was around 20 crores. So, there is a deficit which got created in every almost service provided by the corporation. If I ever get the opportunity to experiment with or deploy new tools for corporations that have a lot of experience, I will consider myself very fortunate.
NS: You have set several examples of good governance like virtual coaching to tribal children in naxal affected Dindori district, 4 O’clock review in Swacch Bharat Abhiyan and many more to name. What gives you the energy and inspiration to make such efforts on a continual basis?
CB: I believe public service is a domain where only a few people get to work. I consider myself very lucky and fortunate where I, as a District Collector, could really make a difference. As we go up the ladder, the domain gets specific and there are specialisations too for the officers. The motivation to serve people you live around is most satisfying for the district collector. The serving window is very limited (7-8 years maximum) and the satisfaction of making a difference in that window is very important for a serving DC.
NS: It’s been almost 13 years since you have been into administrative services holding important portfolios. Is there any special incidence, the moment of success, failure etc. you would like to recognize and share with us regarding your professional journey so far?
CB: I remember going to a Bega village. Begas are particularly vulnerable tribal groups which is found in Dindori. They are decreasing in terms of its population and there are specific regions where they inhabit. I found that there was a meeting going where the natives were discussing issues they face against government officials like pension, the Forest guards not allowing them to pick their produce. I realized how important the public delivery service was to the lives of these people. It might not be that important to a self-sufficient city dweller who does not depend too much on the government and its services. This is where I realize the centrality of government services in the lives of these people. The way in which the people of the community described their problems (most of them were angry) shook me for a good period of time. However, this also motivated me to listen to people and engage with them on a daily basis. We think that everything is fine while the situation is not that easy-going as it seems from our homes. A constant feedback system provides a reality check for course correction. That meeting in the village will stay in my memory and will always remind me to stay on course with the purpose I am being chosen for the service.
NS: Would you like to share your views regarding your book ‘Like a Bird on the Wire’. Can your readers and followers expect a few more representations of the author in you in the coming few years?
CB: Actually, it took me five years to write that book. I wrote it during my paternity leave and when I was in Dindori. Thereafter, I haven’t been able to write anything at all. I used to write a blog which I discontinued. I hope I can create a space for myself where I can read and write again in the future.
NS: We shall like to know your views about Metro Rail News. Any message to our readers?
CB: I believe that it is a very good initiative that will enable any metro organisation to understand what is happening in the country or in different cities. What different mechanisms are being tested, how innovative they are. I believe peer learning is very crucial and a lot of times when we through articles in magazines like Metro Rail news, we get a lot of ideas and inspiration from the stories of other metro corporations. New options get explored every now and it also keeps you aware.
NS: Many thanks for your precious time and our wishes for your new role and responsibility.