IAS officer Astik Kumar Pandey has turned many heads time and again, for all the right reasons. Be it cleaning the paan stains on a government office building or helping farmers plough the field – he is highly revered as the ‘people’s officer’.
At present, Pandey is the District collector of Beed, Maharashtra and his name has surfaced in the news headlines once again after he imposed a hefty penalty on himself for violating the statewide ban on plastic. “It was done as a gesture to show that no one is above the law, no matter what his designation,” states the IAS officer, who happens to be a devout follower of Gandhian principles.
On Monday, a press conference was held at the collector’s office in Beed, Maharashtra to declare the names of electoral candidates who have withdrawn from the upcoming legislative elections. During the meeting, a journalist pointed out that they were being served tea in plastic cups.
The semi-plastic cups, with a high content of single-use plastic, comes under the ambit of the official ban issued by the state government in March 2019.
“I took cognisance of the mistake and imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on the department, in charge of the food arrangements. Since it falls under my collectorate, in a sense, it was imposing a penalty on myself,” Pandey informs The Better India.
Explaining his unique action, he narrated a popular incident from Gandhiji’s life where a desperate father approached Gandhiji to talk to his son about his addiction for sweets. Gandhiji straightaway instructed them to come after ten days. The father-son duo did as told.
After ten days, Gandhiji, in his characteristic polite demeanour, advised the little boy to try giving up on sweets. Now, the perplexed father asked Gandhiji why he did not say this ten days ago. “Because, at that time, I, myself was addicted to having a lot of sugar in food,” – Pandey quotes the Father of the Nation with a hearty chuckle.
Pandey continues, “I want to be the person who both preaches and practises the same thing. I believe my action would prompt other government departments to be stricter in their actions against plastic use.”
Ever since the plastic ban, Pandey has explored sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic that were deemed indispensable in everyday life. For instance, during his previous posting as the District Magistrate of Akola, he engaged women self-help groups to make cloth bags. These were later distributed among local shop-owners at a reasonable price. Pandey is now trying to replicate similar measures in Beed as well.
“The benefits are two-pronged. Not only are cloth bags reducing the carbon footprint, but they are also generating considerable revenue for the village women.”
Following the press conference debacle on Monday, Pandey has already considered eco-friendly replacements of plastic cups and glasses in his collectorate. He has zeroed in on the traditional clay ‘kulhad’ (clay-cups) and plans to import these in bulk from their key production centre Varanasi.
“I hope to inculcate awareness about the environment, hygiene and cleanliness among all the citizens. Once they start spotting the sustainable changes in their collectorate, they will start incorporating the same in their own homes,” says Pandey.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)