Sunday, August 26, 2012

Soaking in the Sunshine @ Surajpur

18th August 2012: All bags were packed and I was suddenly traveling to a district whose name i had only heard a couple of days back - the Surajpur district in North Chattisgarh!

After our two day state orientation in Raipur, we were asked to report to our districts by 21st August (Monday being a holiday for Eid). But, having no place to stay in Raipur, we decided to leave for our districts on Saturday itself.With the other five in our group having departed to their districts in South Chattisgarh by busses, i took my train to Surajpur with great uncertainty of what i was about to discover.
The train route to Surajpur is mesmerising - and no less so than the Rayagada - Koraput Route or even the Konkan route sans the tunnels. Bright green paddy fields with dark green trees dotting the landscape meet the eyes for as far as they can wander. And you immediately fall in love with the place that invites you to its fold with such a view early in the morning.
I landed in Surajpur on  Sunday morning with nothing much in hand to show except for a letter from  the State and a few phone numbers. The travel from the railway station to the guest house was made completely hassle free by my CEO who had arranged for a vehicle to pick me up and also my accommodation in the guest house.
Having settled down and with two days to spend before I could meet my DC and CEO, I decided to wander around the town and see what I could find.The district of Surajpur was formed in 2011 after breaking away 6 blocks of the greater Sarguja district. Thus the place is still in transition and though you do get all items of daily needs, it has little to show in terms of a proper market. The best part of living in a small town is the lack of congestion and pollution and Surajpur is no different. The people are extremely friendly and anyone would find it very easy to build a bond with the place. However, there isn't much to go around in town (except for a currently running Jadugar show in a tent house) and the loneliness of the place started striking me in just the first two days!!
By Tuesday, I was desperate to meet some people and get some work. I first met my CEO who is a very friendly and approachable guy. He then later introduced my to my DC who seemed to be very active but much less approachable. Anyway, in the short time that the DC addressed me, he asked my CEO to work out the logistics for my training and also gave me a hint of the kind of work I would  be required to do in the next two years.
The next few days went by with quite a few ups and downs. Visiting a government department is like opening a secret chamber - you never know what you may find. Some officials were very friendly and provided me with all the information while others were quite obstinate and wouldn't bulge a bit to provide any information. Particularly insightful were the interactions with my CEO. Just observing the kind of issues that were raised in the DRDA (corruption, improper monitoring of NREGA work, false records) and how they were handled indicated the difficult terrain i was going to get into. Also useful was the block officials' meeting with the collector where problems in implementation of various schemes (convergence and coordination issues, HR issues, financial issues) were discussed and possible solutions were worked out.
So, its all been a mixed bag till now. I have gained valuable information about how some of the schemes are implemented at the district and block level but there is also this feeling that there is a lot more to understand.With this little bag of knowledge i ll move into the next part of my training - the village immersion from tomorrow!! :)

Monday, August 13, 2012

PMRDF - The Journey so far!

Its been a month since a new journey, called the Prime Minister's Rural Development Fellowship Scheme began in TISS, Mumbai and time is one thing that I have completely lost track of since then! You probably start forgetting the concept of time itself if you have a fixed schedule from 9 AM to 8 PM across 7 days of the week. The training began on 10th July, 2012 when 44 curious minds got together to understand what challenges lie ahead of them in bringing 'development' to the 78 Left Wing Extremist (LWE) districts across central India.
The first few lectures were completely about development theories and paradigms that really made me think if there was anything going right about the Indian state. Given a chance, I think, a lot of professors in TISS would take up arms themselves to throw out the State and bring in a Revolution. Thankfully, things calmed down over the next few weeks which were more about different government schemes functioning in IAP districts, Research Methodologies & Data Analysis and Project Management. However, the classes on Leadership and Communication to me were the most valuable ones in the entire training.   
The good part about the classes was that we were kept busy the whole day but without any pressure to perform in exams and so, we could participate and debate on topics we found most relevant and browse through the rest (The NCF Ideology suddenly starts making a lot more sense to me!!). Besides the classes, the visits to the slums in M - Ward and the beggars' home were particularly heart touching. The kid's story in Shivaji Nagar will keep ringing in my ears for years to come.
Also invaluable are the bonds of friendship created over the month. I ll hope to carry them along forever because I guess that is the only thing that can help me tide over the difficulties I 'll face in the worst affected naxal districts of the country in Chattisgarh. And I also have the added pressure of breaking the 4½ months job jinx that I have got into with my three previous stints! 
So its a bit hazy right now but I hope things start clearing up after 16th August when the second phase of our training - the field immersion starts in Raipur, Chattisgarh...