The walls were dank, the chairs broken and the curtains tattered. By no stretch of imagination did the place look like it was the office of a major state corporation about to embark on the onerous responsibility of creating a bridge infrastructure in one of the poorest states in the country.
“It did not look like an office at all. I did not know where to begin,’’ Pratyaya Amrit recalls.
When the reticent IAS officer took over as Managing Director (MD) in 2006, the turnover of the Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam (BRPNN) stood at a measly Rs. 47 crore, with the state government having made up its mind to close it down. Within two years, the turnaround took everyone, including the government, by surprise. The defunct organisation was in a position to donate Rs 20 crore to the Chief Minister’s relief fund during the Kosi floods.
Not only had IAS Officer Pratyaya Amrit single-handedly saved a government organisation from the brink of bankruptcy, he had taken it to the forefront of the construction business.
As the MD of Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam (BRPNN), he had overseen the completion of around 300 major bridge projects in three years. This was akin to moving mountains in a state where even a stone does not budge easily!
Amrit, a 1991 batch IAS officer, was on central deputation in New Delhi when he received a call from a bureaucrat from the Bihar government, asking: “Would you mind returning to your home state? There’s plenty to be done here.” The state government wanted to entrust him with the responsibility of reviving a dying institution. When Amrit returned to Bihar, cutting short his scheduled deputation by six months, he became the first IAS officer to head the BRPNN.
The huge losses that BRPNN had been incurring for almost a decade had pushed it to the brink of liquidation. The first thing Amrit targeted was the completion of pending projects, some of which had been pending for almost 17 years, to revive the Corporation. But this was easier said than done. The system in place lacked basic amenities and the morale of the employees was low.
An able administrator and HR expert, Amrit ensured that the staff got a congenial environment to work in and the basic facilities to carry out their jobs.
For instance, he provided them with GPS-enabled phones, making it easier for them to monitor the progress of work. Opting for out-of-the-box solutions to encourage his engineers, Amrit got professional motivators to give encouraging talks to his dispirited engineers, while rewarding the best performers with ample administrative freedom.
The engineers responded to this show of confidence by rising to the occasion. BRPNN, which had completed 314 bridges during the first 30 years of its inception, successfully executed 336 bridge projects in just three years.
A lot of importance was given to quality, monitoring and field visits and Amrit himself travelled more than 40,000 km in three-and-a-half years. He also got a state-of-the-art engineering lab for the organisation and computerised everything. Thanks to his initiatives, by July 2009, BRPNN was an ISO 9001, 2000 and 1410:2004 certified company and its turnover had surged to Rs 768 crore.
Prior to appointment as the MD of BRPNN, Pratyaya Amrit’s work and ability to get things done as a District Magistrate (DM) had also earned appreciation from the public. As the DM of Katihar, he implemented, for the first time, a public-private-partnership for the district hospital where he asked local NGOs to take responsibility for a ward each. This changed the condition of the hospital – it went from being in deficit to having surplus funds. As the DM of Chapra, he put an end to sleaze shows at the famous Sonpur fair (Asia’s largest cattle fair) by making it compulsory for CCTVs to be installed in theatres.
In February 2011, Pratyaya Amrit, as MD of Bihar State Road Development Corporation (BSRDC), stepped in to help destitute girls in Patna find better futures for themselves.
He made the organisation literally adopt the destitute girls, instead of just providing them monetary assistance. The BSRDC would not only bear the entire education costs of these girls till college, but would also provide them with job-oriented training to help them start working. Now, besides the monthly stipend that BSRDC deposits in the bank accounts of these girls, the organisation has also parked Rs 50,000 each as fixed deposits in favour of the girls. The money, taken from Corporation profits, will be available to the girls after they turn 18.
So effective was Amrit’s management style in improving Bihar’s roads that it earned him praise from other countries and the World Bank too.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) rated the road work in Bihar as one of the best. Amrit was invited to attend the Urban Planning and Economic Development Programme in the US in 2011. He was also awarded the Prime Minister’s Excellence in Public Administration award in 2011 – the only IAS officer to get it that year. His facilitation certificate reads:
“Bridging the gap: For turning around a dying Bihar State Bridge Construction Corporation into a profit-making unit.”
In 2014, Amrit was given charge of Bihar’s rural electrification programme. His first target was to cover partially electrified villages. To ensure this work would happen seamlessly, he held meetings with engineers and power companies every fortnight. He coupled these meetings with intensive field visits, travelling across the state for more than 15 months at a stretch.
Amrit was also instrumental in accomplishing the crucial task of getting politicians like MLAs on board and giving them lists of all the villages in their constituencies where electrification was taking place, including the names and numbers of contractors. He also had a web-based app made so that MLAs could access updates on the state of electricity in their area. In addition, spot billing centres (to increase convenience) and meters in every household (to minimise power theft) were installed.
The difference this effort made was visible in less than a year. More than 20,000 burnt transformers were replaced in two months and transmission jumped from 2282 MW to 3500 MW. A strong back-end support system was also created, which helped resolve breakdowns when they happened within 30 minutes. Amrit’s next goal is to electrify all villages by October 2016 and set up a separate agriculture feeder that will increase the availability of power to agriculture from 4% to 18%.
On the personal front, Amrit keeps his feet firmly on terra firma. A simple, unassuming man, he enjoys playing cricket, is an ardent Steve Jobs fan, and likes reading. His favourite book is Who says Elephants Can’t Dance? (a fascinating story of IBM’s turnaround scripted by Louis Gerstner Jr., the Chairman and CEO of IBM).
Known for his ‘get it done and now’ attitude and his attention to detail, Pratyaya Amrit can be called one of the main architects of Bihar’s turnaround story. His parents, both college lecturers, had always told him to do what he felt good about; Amrit made his never-say-die attitude and dedication to the nation his biggest strength. It is due to innovative and pro-active officers like him that a positive change in Indian governance is finally rolling in.