The last 30 days have been eventful. I have been posted as the Assistant Collector of Bhadradri-Kothagudem district (Telangana) on 24.05.2019, a day after India elected its new union government. As I completed one month in the district, I reflected on my stay here and asked myself: What has been my learning in the past one month?
After giving it enough thought, I had a short answer— I learned to begin again.
Life in the district cannot be more different than the one at LBSNAA. Academy is similar to a college: much of the learning happens in the classroom, there are clear rules as to what you are supposed to do, and your superiors are always around to help you out with any task. In contrast, district training reminds me of life after college. You are now suddenly thrown into the real world where you are left on your own. You start a new career and tend to learn more from your peers and superiors than books or PPTs. The academy was about friendships, camaraderie and crisp weather. The district, on the other hand, is about dust, sweat and sweltering heat.
Out here, because of the proximity to the public and their problems, the learning is imprinted in the memory. Sometimes, I am sent on a field enquiry and asked to submit a report on a land dispute, or at times I am directed to visit a Gram Sabha, and encourage people to build toilets. As these tasks are new to me, sometimes they leave me confused as to how I should proceed. But I believe that difficulty is the essence of any learning. I recently came across a great quote that reads: “Difficulty is not a sign that you aren’t learning, but ease is a sign that you aren’t learning.”
The first thing that caught my eye in this district is how unique it is from the rest of the state. The district took birth when the govt undertook a sweeping reorganisation of the state in 2016. The erstwhile districts were sliced into smaller districts, aiming to bring administration closer to the people. The result— 10 districts have given way to 33. As part of this reorganisation, the government delineated tribal dominated northern part of the erstwhile Khammam district and rechristened it as Bhadradri, bearing 24 mandals and 2 revenue divisions. For a supposedly rich state like Telangana, this district is one of the most backward, with many human development indicators such as nutrition, literacy, and sanitation much below the national average.
I spent one week each with the collectorate, police and the district treasury. In each section, I tried to discern the hierarchy and their individual responsibilities. Having worked in the government previously, I could get an idea on office procedure and file movement. The staff here has been courteous with me, patiently answering my questions and explaining the nuts and bolts of governance. But my biggest learning has been outside of the four walls of the office, during my field visits with the Collector.
As and when my Collector toured the district, he’d ask me to hop on his vehicle. The more I visited the villages and mandals of this district, the more I found this place to be a paradox. This district is home to Singareni Collieries Company Ltd, a coal mining PSU that recorded almost Rs. 1200 crore profit in 2017-18. Yet, just 50 km from the company headquarters, inside deep jungles of Bhadradri, vulnerable tribal groups often struggle for existence. Their worry is not over power or profits, but over basic needs— clean water, good shelter, and decent nutrition. Even reaching these forest dwellers has been a major challenge for the government. However, things have changed in recent years and the administration has been working assiduously in the areas of recognition of land rights and ensuring that public services are effectively delivered even to the most remote segments.
The paradox in the district manifested in other forms too. On one hand, the district is known for its glorious Bhadrachalam temple of Lord Rama, attracting tourists from across the country. On the other hand, this part of the country is also notorious for its Left-Wing Extremist violence. Only last year, ten Maoists and one cop were killed in a police encounter. This contrast between affluence and deprivation, privilege and poverty, peace and violence leaves a deep impression on anyone who observes this place closely.
I have lived and travelled in Telangana for almost 29 years but it now feels as though I don’t know enough about my home state. Last month has been a revelation in two things: a discovery of my homeland and a profound realisation of my ignorance. Having been brought up in this state, I feel I should have been better informed.
Instead of regretting the past, I now want to look ahead. I see district training as a wonderful time to start with a blank slate and learn with child-like curiosity. I want to learn about the state, know its people closely, understand their problems, and work to help them in whatever little way I can. I have a long-distance to cover but I am excited to start this new journey. It’s time to begin again.