GOVERNANCE @ GRASSROOTS
Taking readers inside the veiled world of politics, K Pradeep Chandra's Tiger Hunting Stories reminisces three decades of active engagement with administration – its ups, downs and the endless search for value. Excerpts:
'An inclusive economic system allows every citizen, whether rich or poor, equality of opportunity, thereby motivating people to dream big.'
– A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
In early June 1986, our batch was promoted to the senior time scale. I had recently married Sujatha, who was in her final year of MBBS, with exams due in August, followed by one year of internship. I must confess that I did not relish the idea of working in one of the district posts under a district collector who would be about three to four years senior to me—it was a personal thing. At that moment, I needed to be in Hyderabad.
So, I requested to be posted as the chief rationing officer (CRO) of Hyderabad. In the districts, the joint collector would take care of civil supplies but in Hyderabad, given the population and the importance of the `2 per kg rice scheme of CM NTR, the CRO was responsible for the distribution of essential commodities in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.
Under the scheme, green cards were given to families with an annual income less than `3,000 entitling them to 25 kg rice at `2 per kg. Later, the income limit was raised to `6,000. Consequently, at that time, about 70 per cent of the population of the state was covered under this scheme. K.R. Venugopal, IAS 1962, was the commissioner of civil supplies and was mainly responsible for the conceptualization and effective implementation of the scheme. Despite the criticisms of that time, it has now been proved that a subsidized rice scheme, with all its leakages and inefficiencies, is economically sound, providing much needed food security to the real poor. Today, the subsidized rice scheme is a staple in all the electoral promises menu of every party regardless of the state. The subsidized rice scheme will be remembered as one of the most important contributions of NTR as a politician.
Unfortunately, at present, the number of persons covered by the subsidized rice scheme in AP and Telangana based on the cards issued, is more than the population of the state. The price has been reduced to `1 from the original `2 per kg. Each
succeeding CM tweaked this scheme, increasing the coverage or the subsidy, trying unsuccessfully to claim the legacy of NTR.
The public distribution system (PDS) was a three-tier process. Rice was purchased from the Food Corporation of India at a fixed price and moved to AP State Civil Supplies Corporation (APSCSC) godowns, which acted as the stockist points. From the APCSC godowns, it was transported to the fair price shops (FPS) or 'ration shops'. The differential costs between the FCI issue price and the `2 charged to the public was the subsisdy borne by the government.
C.D. Arha, IAS 1968, was the commissioner of civil supplies (CCS) when I joined as CRO. He had succeeded K.R. Venugopal and was also an able administrator. The CRO reported directly to the commissioner of civil supplies, usually a very senior IAS officer, and this suited me very well. The commissioner of civil supplies was the only commissioner in the government who was also an ex-officio secretary to the government. In Hyderabad, apart from providing rice at `2 per kg, the PDS also provided rice at `2.75 per kg to families above the income limit who were provided with yellow cards.
There were nine circles in Hyderabad city manned by assistant supply officers (ASO) and assisted by inspectors. There was one ESCOM godown attached to each ASO. This was the field set-up. In the head office, there was a general manager of ESCOM (Kishan Rao) and a district supply officer (Balaiah). I also had two deputy tahsildars (Aleem and Balaiah), who were like my private vigilance officers. In addition, under the commissioner, there was the civil supplies vigilance wing headed by V. Appa Rao, IPS. For Hyderabad, I had Prabhakar Reddy, an additional SP with Tirupati Reddy and Ranjit as two inspectors. The stringent Essential Commodities Act was the regulatory framework that covered PDS and the civil supplies. For an office vehicle, I had a green Premier Padmini—possible the only Fiat car in the armada of Ambassadors that were the staple vehicle of the government.
As CRO my modus operandi remained more or less the same—I would visit one circle office each day and inspect a number of 100 FPS along the way. I would be in my office every morning to receive visitors and representations and also doing my court work under the EC Act. However, before I could fully settle down, the river Godavari called me again. Due to heavy rains in the catchment area, the Godavari was in floods, affecting the east bank Bhadrachalam area of Khammam. The river reached a maximum level of 75.6 feet at Bhadrachalam on 16 August 1986, which is the highest record till date. The entire Bhadrachalam revenue division was under submergence and cut off since water flowed over the bridge for over a day. The district collector, RH Khwaja, sought additional manpower and I was deputed along with Veerabhadraiah and Ambarish, both very competent direct recruit deputy collectors, as special officers. I drove down immediately in my green Premier Padmini and I think I reached there on the night of August 18.
Bhadrachalam revenue division was a sub-collector's station. Ambarish was the MD of the APSCSC so he was positioned at Khammam to coordinate movement of rice and other essential commodities. Veerabhadraiah and I went to Bhadrachalam the next day. The water had receded a little and we could drive over the bridge. We reached the sub-collector's office and noticed that the office was in a state of confusion. We commandeered the office and Veerabhadraiah literally took over the post, ordering the MROs and other revenue staff. Luckily the means of communication both by road and phone were open, so we could speak with the collector's office and with Ambarish. My job was to take the jeep and drive along the road that ran parallel to the river on the eastern bank, assessing the damage and requirement of essential food stuff, clothing and temporary housing for the villages that were affected. Each day, I would drive up till Sitampeta and down till Nellipaka, speaking to the villagers I would find on the road, and making forays into the villages through the branch roads based on the information provided by the local people. Veerabhadraiah would consolidate all information and coordinate with Ambarish for relief operations.
(Excerpted with permission from Tiger Hunting Stories; written by K. Pradeep Chandra; published by Harper India. The excerpt here is a part of the chapter titled 'NTR and Rs 2 per Kilo of Rice Scheme'.)