In the remote Maoist-affected tehsil of Bhamragad, a young tehsildar has shown the way by bringing in good governance for the past two years. In his first-ever posting, 32-year-old Kailash Andil has brought relief for the Madia-Gond tribals, who have suffered due to government apathy since Independence.
Andil did not bat an eyelid when he got his first post-probation posting as Bhamragad tehsildar after clearing the Maharashtra Public Service Commission examination in May 2017. Two years later, Bhamragad has experienced a rare activation of government initiative that could well serve as a template for governance.
Educated at Pune, Andil has made inroads into the heavily-forested area, including the feared and inaccessible terrain of Abujmaad. From caste certificate to forest rights and from destitute pension to all-weather roads, he and his team have tried uplifting the tribals by making government schemes accessible to them.
Andil also revived eight gram panchayats that were defunct for years. “I had heard a lot about Bhamragad and the problems linked to it. But I was not worried when I came here. My approach was simple: identify the main problems in the governance machinery and fix them, and later identify the priority of the public issues to be addressed and try to deliver on them,” Andil said.
Andil’s first step was to improve infrastructure and work culture. “It was necessary to solve staff problems. Appreciation for good work and punishment for shirkers was necessary. A lot of infrastructural work was hanging fire. I got them rolling by addressing contractor’s payment issues,” he said.
Andil got support from Collector Shekhar Singh and assistance from his deputy, naib tahsildar Nikhil Sonavne (32). Setbacks to Maoists in the recent past has also paved the way for the tehsildar’s team to gain unhindered access to sensitive areas.
“Our next step was to prioritise government works according to people’s expectations. We zeroed in on health, education, electricity, banking, telecommunication and roads,” Andil said.
Andil and his team started by computerising land records. The tehsil office was equipped with solar unit for uninterrupted power supply and new computers and allied machines were installed.
“Tribals understand Gondi language better. So, we appointed village-level kotwals to assist talathies (village revenue officials),” he said.
Andil and his staff first took up distribution of caste certificates. “Almost all government benefits depend on this document. While some villagers had them, many others couldn’t get them due to inaccessible terrain and lack of awareness, so we started holding camps in interior villages. From many other places, our kotwals would bring photos of other basic documents in their mobile phones, which we would then process at the tahsil office and revert to villagers with delivery of caste certificates at their doorstep,” says Andil.
Andil’s team claimed to have delivered more than 10,000 caste certificates in 128 villages in the Bhamragad tehsil. Among the farthest to get the certificates were the villages of Binagunda, Kuwakodi and Fodewada, where government officials have scarcely visited citing Naxal fear. These villages, situated on hills in the dense Abujmad forest, about 225 km from the district headquarters, remain cut off during monsoon and can only be reached through a treacherous trek of about eight hours. For the first time, the state government Rajaswa Abhiyan camp was held at Binagunda last year.
Some villages like Tekla, Ranipudur and Kudkeli had sought access roads. The demand was fulfilled despite the villages being located in Naxal-dominated areas.
“Roads are important not only for faster travel but also to facilitate better emergency medical services. Now ambulances can ply to these villages to quickly move patients in urgent need of treatment,” Andil said.
However, his most courageous step has been to reset six gram panchayats that were defunct for years due to Naxal pressure. They were Hodri, Nelgunda, Praynar, Tekla, Kothi and Nirgudwancha. Kuvakodi and Fodewada got new gram panchayats.
“With no gram panchayats, officials like block development officer and gram sevaks function according to their own whims and fancies. Delivery of many government schemes depend on processing at gram panchayat level. So, we asked the kotwals and talathies to organise meetings with villagers to explain the importance of gram panchayat to them. When convinced, the villagers took part in the process to elect members unopposed,” Andil said.
At Ranipudur, villagers are happy with the new all-weather tar road. “Three villagers have purchased bikes after the road was constructed. Slowly, more may follow suit,” said Laxman Naitam, a villager.
At all places, however, villagers still feel there is lack of facilities such as those related to school education, water and health. “Our staff has just set the ball rolling. After empowerment through local self-government, the yearning for development in people should pave the way for future progress,” said Collector Shekhar Singh.