Corruption and red-tapism in government offices is an unfortunate reality known to all. Strict action against the errant ‘babus’ could be a positive step to curb these problems, and recently, Suraj Mandhare, the Chief Executive Officer of Pune Zilla Parishad, did just that.
It isn’t always easy to spot officials who are tarnishing the reputation of government offices—especially if you occupy an esteemed position like the ZP’s CEO. If you must find out how your offices are working in your absence, you need to be discreet.
Since last week, Mandhare has been secretly visiting Primary Health Centres (PHCs), village schools and offices, to see how things are functioning and also weed out incompetent officials. He does not inform anyone about his visits and arrives in his private car, to keep his mission an absolute secret.
What Mandhare saw when he arrived at the offices was shocking—bribery, locked offices and red-tapism—but he was ready with a plan of action.
On Tuesday, the IAS officer met Pratibha Dongre, a gram sevak in a Pune village, who claimed to have forgotten to maintain financial records for about a year! Mandhare immediately sat with her, cross-checking available records and discovered that while she had received payment for official work, the villagers never got a receipt.
Mandhare suspended her on the spot.
The next day (Wednesday) he reached the Ketkawle village in Pune, where he found out that gram sevak Sujay Poman had locked up his office and left for a holiday—on a working day! No official leave application was filed, and his co-workers also weren’t at work.
Like Dongre, Poman also received a suspension letter from the IAS officer immediately.
PM Lonkar, a Village Development Officer, was in for a shock when Mandhare caught him red-handed accepting bribes for illegal construction.
Speaking to Pune Mirror, Mandhare said, “It’s my duty to ensure that citizens get administrative services. So, I decided to crosscheck ground realities by visiting offices in a private vehicle. To send a clear message to misbehaving employees, we started suspending them on the spot.”
In the Junnar Taluka, a Class I Block Development Officer (BDO) was demanding Rs 10,000 as a bribe to release an arrear of benefits to a subordinate amounting to Rs 2.07 lakh from a subordinate officer. When the recording of the telephoning conversation reached Mandhare, he suspended the BDO.
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In the PHCs that had cases of absent officials, dirty premises or incomplete financial records, Mandhare issued show-cause notices to the offices, giving a hint that they might suffer a similar fate to Poman and Dongre.
“At many PHCs and ZP-run schools, issues of funding or manpower no longer exist. But, lacunae are still rampant while providing services to citizens.
Now, these will be met with a zero-tolerance approach — which will continue till satisfactory performances by staff become the norm. We are also pegging the responsibility on the immediate supervisors to ensure that no repetition of such conduct, which maligns the government, is seen,” said Mandhare.
Not every visit came as a shock to the IAS officer. He also visited some primary schools, where he was happy to see that the teachers were putting in an extra effort to make classes innovative and fun for the students.
This is not the first instance when Mandhare has shaken things up. When he was newly appointed at the ZP CEO in Pune, he urged citizens to do away with garlands and coconuts as presents to government officials and replace them with books instead.
“The flower bouquet is nothing but a waste of money; they are also costly. People give it just to show gratitude. We do not want to hurt the sentiments of the citizens who gift bouquets, but replacing them with books would convey a stronger and more positive message. The change in tradition will also help in increasing reading habits among officers, which has become rare now. If they get a book as a present, they will be compelled to read it” he had said.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)