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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ajai Shankar Pandey - Municipal Commissioner of a different kind

A group of my friends and me were having a discussion about Municipal Corporations in India. We all agreed that the following  rule defines any Municipal body in India.

“As a rule a Municipal body in India is a place where leeches, roaches, rats and pigs take human forms and work with the sole purpose of earning  billions by indulging in corruption every single minute and even working overtime to do so”.

Also We all agreed that the above comparison demeans leeches, roaches, rats and pigs!!!.

Well there are exceptions to any rule and the above rule has exceptions too. There still are some municipal employees that are not corrupt and these form the exception to the above rule. Mr. Ajai Shankar Pandey is one such exception.

Mr Ajai Shankar Pandey is the Municipal Commissioner of Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh. Thanks to him, the roads of  Ghaziabad are spotlessly clean and perfectly paved. No potholes, no rubbish clogging the drainage system, no plastic wrappers blowing by like tumbleweeds.

Every morning, Pandey arrives to office ten minutes early and brooms the floor, dusts the furniture and takes out the garbage. He asks each of Ghaziabad's citizens to make a similar effort.

When Pandey took office on June 18, he found that Ghaziabad suffered from chronic officials and hand-picked contractors had established an in-built 15 per cent hidden payment for each new project. In response, the populace became apathetic and the few honest contractors in town packed their bags and left. Civic sense had disappeared altogether.

As Pandey puts it "There were a lot of problems and much work to be done. But, more or less, these same issues occur everywhere. Wherever there is construction occurring, whenever these contracts are signed, there are caucuses of people making money that they didn't earn"

He could have used the whip to threaten, scare and bully the contractors and officials into acting straight. But that only works temporarily. Instead he used the Gandhian approach, and appealed directly to their souls.

Pandey met each of the involved parties one-on-one and asked them a few uncomfortable questions. He says he asked them " Brother, this money you are making will raise your children, pay for their food and fund their education. Don't you want it to be earned honestly?"
After a series of meetings and sufficiently shaming the corrupt officials and contractors things started turning around.

There was another incident that occurred when he was the Municipal Commissioner of Mathura. One day, the sweepers suddenly went on strike and made impossible demands. Within a week, heaps of garbage lined the roads. All around the town, things became unsanitary and disgusting. He asked the citizens to help me dispose of the waste; they refused. He told them it was in their own best interest, but no one listened. Then, he asked the sweepers to call off the strike, and they refused.

Every day, he went out into the middle of town, carrying his broom, and swept the streets and gutters. It was only him at first, so his efforts didn't make too much of a difference. People laughed at him. But after a few days, his colleagues began to help.

Three then five and finally ten joined him in the street. After a few days, the citizens saw their sincerity, and began to help themselves. Soon, they had 1,000 people working for four to five hours each day. They did this for seven days. Finally, the sanitation workers came and begged them to stop. They wanted their jobs back, and agreed to stop the strike.

This is another example where he showed exemplary leadership and did not sit and wait  - wishing the problem would go away.

We need many more Ajai Shankar Pandeys in our municipalities or for that matter in all walks of life in our great country.

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