“Two young school girls wrote a letter to their father asking for a toilet during the last pujas. Yes, and they were ready to renounce their puja clothes for the noble cause,” said Saumitra Mohan.
This and other such oddball incidents make the life of Mohan – an IAS officer of the 2002 Bengal cadre and District Magistrate (DM) of Burdwan – extraordinary. Once a month, Mohan and other officers of the district administration, including the block divisional officer and sub-divisional police
officer, take turns at their official duty of Nishijapon, a night spent in the village with the objective of understanding people and their problems better.
Mohan says that sleeping on the floor of a school building and marathon meetings with villagers in the evenings has helped bridge the gap between people and the administration quite a bit.
“There are so many problems that they face in their daily lives. Some of them need ration cards, housing, pension, healthcare, schools, certificates, knowledge about various government schemes. We try to solve their problems immediately. If not, we come back with a camp within a week”, the senior IAS officer told Millennium Post.
One major problem that the DM of Burdwan is combating with his team is open defecation in the village. A surveillance committee takes a tour of the area around 4 am and reminds villagers about the need for maintaining public hygiene and the danger of snake bites during open defecation.
“Burdwan is a very resourceful district otherwise. Agriculture and industry co-exist and there is no lack of resources among the people. The villagers may have a TV set and mobile phones in the house but they may be still be practicing open defecation”, he rues.
Mohan feels that in the sphere of education too, administrative surveillance has helped. “We have inspected at least 750 schools in the district. We have added toilets, teaching and learning equipment, introduced stress management and martial art classes for the girls. We are now able to study the implementation level problems and remove the bottlenecks immediately. In that way, the distance between the district administration and the people is being continuously bridged”, he explains.
So what inspires Mohan and his team to reach out to people at the grassroots level? “The Honourable CM is our inspiration. Her hard work and indefatigable energy always inspires us”, says Mohan of Mamata Banerjee, who regularly monitors scheme implementation at her development meetings in Kolkata and the districts.
So are the villagers always reasonable with their demands? “Sometimes their demands are out of reach.
The villagers may want long roads or bridges. Then we forward their requests to the respective department of the state government”, said the IAS officer, who packs his dinner and sleeps on a mattress in a school building during these nightly vigils.