Karnataka cadre IAS Bharatlal Meena sets a new precedent in Government-public partnership
Contrary to the general perception that bureaucrats and Government officers are the biggest barrier in development, Rajasthan born Karnataka cadre IAS Bharatlal Meena has evolved an exciting model of development. Since 1985, wherever he was posted in Karnataka he motivated local people to join the development process, thus creating a huge statewide network of locals and Government officials setting new precedents of development. He mobilises people under the banner of ‘Apna Desh’, an initiative that he officially started in 1991 to breed the feeling of ‘giving’ and not just ‘taking’. The fruits of this initiative are visible in thousands of villages which have made a niche in respect of development either in the form of self-reliance, 100 per cent literacy, waste management, technological advancement, debt free, smoke free, plastic free, hut free, rainwater harvesting, no dues and so on.
Citizens in Sandhanur town of Lingasugur sub division in Raichur District of Karnataka used to build a temporary bund on a canal every year for storing drinking water. The district administration too allocated fund for it every year. But nobody thought of resolving the problem permanently. In 1987 also, the Collector allocated Rs two lakh for it, but the then Assistant Commissioner refused to use the fund on the temporary bund, which washed away during heavy rains. It was wastage of money because of many other reasons—water stored was unfit for drinking as it was used for cattle, washing clothes and bathing also.
The Assistant Commissioner motivated citizens to think for a permanent solution. Constituting a citizens committee he encouraged them to ‘contribute’ as per their capacity—whether in the form of shramdaan or money. Finally, some citizens agreed for shramdaan, while some opt for collecting money. The Assistant Commissioner too joined the shramdaan. It motivated the people to the extent that they collected Rs 25 lakh for the project. The water for the tank was brought from Tungabhadra River, about 30 km from Sandhanur. The tank is still affectionately called ‘Meena Kere’ (Meena’s Tank). Present MLA from Sandhanur Assembly constituency Hamangowda Badarli still fondly remembers this wonderful work, as he was then a Zilla Parishad member.
The Assistant Commissioner who took this initiative was Bharatlal Meena, who is now Principal Secretary, Agriculture in Government of Karnataka. This initiative, in essence, took the Government scheme directly to the beneficiaries and connected them with the project by heart. There are thousands of such examples throughout Karnataka today, where the local people joined hands with the officials and resolved their problems. Whether it is desilting of old tanks, constructing bus shelters, building or repairing school or Anganwadi buildings, roads, playgrounds, planting trees, developing parks, laying pipelines for water supply, maintaining rural hygiene, conducting health camps or blood donation camps, campaigning against liquor, plastic, dowry or other social evils, promoting self-reliance activities or even organising literacy classes, thousands of people and Government officials are found ready under the banner of ‘Apna Desh’.
Equally, the people in Arahalli Village of Shimoga district faced the problem of school building for many years. But after motivation from Bharatlal Meena they built the building by contributing Rs 25,000 and also performing shramdaan in 1993. Now the villagers here do not wait for Government agencies to come and resolve their problems. They take a decision and start the work.
In Belgaum city, the main water tank became almost useless due to heavy silt. But thanks to the initiative of Apna Desh the tank was not only saved from encroachment, but also was revived by disilting it through shramdaan. It again proved the lifeline of the city. Similarly, in Mangalore town about 370 acre barren land has been converted into a popular tourist spot, thanks to the efforts of Shri Meena. Today, around 5,000 tourists visit this integrated entertainment park popularly known as Pilikula Nisarga Dham (PND) every day. It is just 12 km from main Mangalore city. No one would believe that it is the result of a small local initiative. But it is ture.
The experiment of technological empowerment conducted by Hosargady Village of Belthangadi Taluka in Dakshin Kannada district (about 50 km from Mangalore city) is remarkable. The people here not only made the Village plastic free, ensured sanitation and 100 per cent literacy but also used the advanced technology which is not found even in metro cities like Delhi. They switch on or off their five water pumps any time even sitting at home or while away from the village. Similarly, the street lights here have been fitted with timers. The technology for it was adopted from Kisan Shakti Mela held in Bengaluru some time back. “Apna Desh motivated us to take all these initiatives,” says Dharmendra Kumar, vice president of Gram Panchayat.
The miracle that the Self-Help Groups (SHGs), started with the inspiration of Apna Desh in Dakshin Kannada district, have created wonders even outside India. I personally had the opportunity to see it at Bannur Village on December 15, 2013. After making hundreds of villages fully literate, the women volunteers here have now resolved to make them corruption-free. The self-confidence seen among these women for achieving their goals is really admirable. “Apna Desh gave us a vision to work selflessly for our villages. The day I joined this movement I stopped thinking for myself but for the fellow villagers,” says 40 year old Aruna D, the lady who once dreamed of becoming a Government teacher but dedicated to Apna Desh movement.
How the motivation by Apna Desh changed the mindset of Government officials was seen in Hasan, where a Transport Department official, Sayed Sajjad Pasha, himself sought transfer in District Literacy Mission to make people literate. The SHG-based model of adult literacy that he has evolved is now popular throughout the country as ‘Hasan Model’. With the help of around 4,000 SHGs he has made around one lakh adults literate. “Now I am going to retire in four months, and I have decided to dedicate myself to the cause of Apna Desh,” said Shri Pasha. Similar examples of out of the box thinking are visible at every step in Karnataka. Shri Krishnamoorthy along with his fellow villagers in Anuganalu Village under Hasan district has created a dense forest of rare trees at the highly rocky and sloppy village land.
The impact of ‘Apna Desh’ is visible not only in remote villages but also in State capital Bengaluru, where Shri Meena resolved not only the problem of traffic congestion but also effectively fought against the menace of defacing city walls through cinema and political postures or wall writing. About four km long walls in Central Bengaluru were badly defaced. As Commissioner of Brihad Bangalore Mahangar Palika (BBMP) Shri Meena, in 2010, got these walls painted with the fascinating paintings displaying Kannada heritage. Now these walls attract visitors from other states also. It is a worth emulating model for the civic agencies which are crippled with such menace in other cities.
It is just a glimpse of the motivational activities taken up by Apna Desh. The list has endless success stories from villages to cities. It is because of it that the simple and easily available bureaucrat Bharatlal Meena enjoys huge popularity throughout the State. He successfully converted the ‘I’ feeling into the ‘we’ feeling checking the negative attitude and selfishness. “All works cannot be and should not be done by Government alone. There is a need to involve people in development process in order to optimise the result of Government spending for welfare and other works. The superficial involvement of people and their non-involvement would not bridge the trust deficit. The more we keep people away from the development more alienation would develop,” says Shri Meena.
‘Apna Desh’ has one more uniqueness. Contrary to other voluntary organisations, it does not believe in having formal organisational structure or making formal members. It also believes in not collecting money from Government or others. “No NGO can match Government spending on welfare schemes. Still impact of most schemes is not always positive. Success depends on the integrity and understanding of the people involved in the execution. ‘Apna Desh’ tries to become a bridge between Government agencies and people and bring them together as the end objective is the advancement of interests of the people at large,” Shri Meena added.
Adding another feather to its cap, Apna Desh has recently started a programme on All India Radio (in Kannada) titled ‘Salaam Apna Desh’ as a tribute to the unsung heroes of rural areas. Through all these activities the connectivity that Shri Meena and his Apna Desh have developed with the people is definitely an eye opener for other bureaucrats all over the country.