Greetings on the successful completion of FC and Phase- I. Do you feel that your time at the academy just flew by? Not surprising. That first walk into the campus, the arduous trek to a nearby hill, the odd nap in the lecture hall, the lovely meal at the Officers’ Mess. And the jokes and the laughter with batchmates over a warm cup of coffee under an overcast sky. What a journey!
Now, as you embark on your IAS district training, I wish to share some ideas and advice. A close friend once said: As a probationer, it’s a tragedy to commit the same mistakes as your seniors. Even in errors, there should be a novelty. Through this write-up I wish to correct that in any small way possible.
Though what follows is subjective, shaped by my personal experience in the district, I do hope that it helps you navigate through the maze of district administration better. The idea is that when you complete your district training, you will pass on your experience to your juniors so that they may be better equipped than you are right now.
Here it goes:
- Finish the paperwork in the first few days itself (setting up your salary account, transferring the pension account (NPS), submitting joining reports, pay protection documents if already in government service etc.). Get these tasks done so that you can focus on your training.
- Think of your training project as learning to assemble a car. LBSNAA provides you with the essential tools but the actual assembly happens in the district, where you experiment with each device, iterate and learn in the process. Naturally, you will struggle and fail at times, but your learning curve will be much steeper.
- You are an intern here, which means accepting that you don’t know much. So, carrying a sense of humility with you helps.
- District Administration is a complex tangle of many departments and officers. Get to know their hierarchy and make a note of who is responsible for which task. Visit departmental offices and make a note of the most important acts and schemes under their purview. Most of them follow the Pareto rule: 80% of a department’s work centres around 20% of Acts and Schemes.
- District is at the core of India’s governance. From statistics such as Index of Industrial Production to policies like Poshan Abhiyaan, everything crystallises into concrete numbers and action in the district. Observing the implementation part of a scheme is a remarkable learning experience.
- If you are not in your home cadre, put time and energy into learning the state’s language. Without fluency in the native language, you will struggle to fit in with the general public. It’s a one-time effort, but it will pay off over your entire career.
- Feeling lonely is a common side-effect. After spending time with friends and like-minded people in the academy, the district atmosphere sometimes gets to you. So, make an attempt to connect with the officers from other services. You will be regularly called for dinners in the district. Don’t miss them. It’s an excellent opportunity to bond with other officers, hear their stories and enjoy a delicious meal.
- This is also the best time to develop a new hobby or resurrect old ones. LBSNAA tends to keep us busy with assignments and group activities. In the district, you will have a lot more leisure. Instead of binge-watching TV series, build a new skill.
- Watch your health. With no hills to climb and no punishing PT sessions, it’s easy to put on weight in the district. Make some time for exercise in your schedule. Play a sport or join a nearby gym.
- Call on senior IAS officers whenever you get a chance. They like to meet probationers because you remind them of their days as a trainee. Meet, greet, and chat with senior officers and try to learn from their experience.
- As an Assistant Collector, you are inducted into the role of the executive, which means it becomes your duty to learn how to interact with other organs of the state: the Legislature (the local MLA, the minister and the MP) and the Judiciary (District and Civil Judge). Also, the media.
- Every district is unique and so will be your training. Don’t endlessly compare with your batchmates on what amenities you have, how big your jurisdiction is or what work you have been assigned. Different Collectors have different styles of training their probationers. Take it all in good spirit.
- Try to look for problems that are throttling the system and think about changes that you can bring to the table. It can be anything: a better way of handling public grievances or a more effective way to review a department or conduct meetings.
- When Collector asks you whether you want to take up an assignment, always say yes. I’d say take up more than you can manage. When you are a probationer, there aren’t many expectations from you anyway. So, even if you succeed only in a tiny fraction of them, that’s still a plus.
- You learn the most when you hold an independent charge as Tahsildar or a BDO as your skin is now in the game. Don’t be hesitant about taking up those assignments. Even if you make a few mistakes, that’s fine.
- View every challenge as an opportunity, and every criticism as a lesson. Sometimes when you commit mistakes, you will face the Collector’s ire. Don’t take it personally. Learn from the incident and quickly move on.
- Learn to let go of your ego. Subordinates with 25+ years experience can teach you a lot. When you need to learn or understand something, go sit with them in their office rather than calling them to yours. This way, they feel most at ease and tell you as things are.
- Tour the district. Nothing can substitute the force of a visual experience.
- Read history of the district and the state. You learn best when you put knowledge in a context. History is that context.
- District training is flexible by design. Have a training plan but don’t think it’s the last word. My best learning experiences from district training were crowd management at Medaram Jaatara and COVID disaster management, both of which were not part of my original training plan. Learning opportunities come in unexpected ways.
- Sometimes the Collector might not be able to monitor you on a day-to-day basis. But irrespective of who is watching you, be a thorough professional.
- You don’t have legal authority over the district officers, but your word carries a lot of weight. Use it to solve problems. Look for proposals that are pending for years. Your designation helps you expedite the process.
- The Collector is your boss, mentor and friend. Try to regularly interact with him/her and discuss how your training is going. You learn a lot from these informal discussions. 80% of what I know about the practical issues on land administration was taught to me in one interaction with the Collector.
- Avoid negativity and cynicism about the cadre, the district or the training. Nothing good comes out of it.
- Of course, at the end of the training you will not learn everything. Today I cannot claim to understand many things in the administration. But, now I am at a better stage than I was a year ago. The car I assembled is slow and creaky, but the fact is it’s ready to move.
- Finally, don’t forget to have fun. Through the exciting times and the mundane. The last thing you should become is a boring Babu. Preserve your child-like curiosity and that rawness of a trainee.
Welcome to the District Collectorate.
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