Missing window panes, door frames sans doors, moss spreading unchecked over its walls, and a ceiling that had caved in from a storm — for years, the transport office in Khimiyang in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang district, had been in a state of disrepair. But last week, the dilapidated building emerged in a new avatar: a library with yellow and pink walls, filled with bookshelves and toys inside — and a queue of excited kids outside.
“They are more interested in the computers and toys now — not the books,” laughs Todak Riba, Extra Assistant Commissioner, Khimiyang. Over months, Riba and Dr Prajwal Montri, Medical Officer, Khimiyang PHC, have supervised the renovation of the rundown building, at times picking up construction tools themselves.
They are backed by Project 37, a crowdfunding initiative by (and named after) 37 officers from Arunachal Pradesh Civil Service, 2016 batch, who are pooling in money to “repair anything”. This involves giving facelifts to old, disused buildings and converting them to schools, libraries; building playgrounds, toilets; repairing roads and signposts across the state. “The library is first in the series. It could even have us funding a promising athlete from a village — basically anything that will help in developing the remotest of outposts in our state,” says 33-year-old Riba.
A team effort
The idea was proposed last year by Rome Mele, Circle Officer, Balijan, Papum Pare district. According to the plan, each batchmate would donate Rs 1,500 on a bi-monthly basis. “The money will be auto-debited from our accounts,” says Mele, “There is a random roster, and the ‘winner’ will get to use the money in his her circle.” The “output” includes “donating to causes, creating micro-infrastructure, building toilets, classrooms, furniture etc.”
Outpost circles — such as Khimiyang, which is located in the border district of Changlang — will be given preference. “Khimiyang circle is located near the Myanmar border…very remote and with an insurgency problem,” says Devansh Yadav, DC, Changlang.
Located 38 km (at least two hours by road) from the district headquarters, Khimiyang — which comprises 12 villages — is marred by poor connectivity, low development indices and is, on account of being located close to the Myanmar forests, a hideout for many insurgent groups. “In fact, the level of opium addiction is also very high here — among teachers too — since there is easy access,” says Riba, adding: “No one wants to be posted here. In fact, most officers, despite being posted here, prefer to stay in the district headquarters.”
Affected by the bleak surroundings, Riba and his colleague, Dr Montri, set up a tuition hall last year to get the village kids interested in studies. “After the first few days, they stopped coming,” he recalls, “Then we started doing weekend documentary sessions, which got a little interest. But soon, that petered out too.”
It was then that they thought of the library. “The transport building is probably ten years old … it had ample space,” he says, “I reached out to my batchmates and everyone felt it was a worthy cause for Project 37 to donate.”
‘Contribute till we retire’
The new library was inaugurated on October 20 — drawing praises from Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu.
#APCS Batch 2016 officers pooled in their money, to renovate an old library in Khimiyang circle.
Initiative led by local 2016 batch EAC Sh. Todak Riba & books donated by District library!!
— Devansh Yadav (@Devansh_IAS) October 20, 2020
“A beautifully renovated library hall at Khimiyang circle in Changlang district,” tweeted CM khandu, sharing images of the library, “An initiative by Arunachal Pradesh Civil Service Officers of 2016 batch who pooled in their money to renovate an old library. I feel proud and inspired by our officers who are leading by example!”
Mele said Circle Officers do not usually get funds for projects — impeding development, especially in remote districts. “That got me thinking, why not do it ourselves,” says the 36-year-old, “Who knows, others might be inspired too. As for us, we have decided to contribute till we retire.”
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