Vol. 6 | Issue 4 |July 2012
Miles to go before...
Ashutosh Agnihotri may be young in age, but what he has achieved as DC in some Assam districts would make any seasoned officer proud
by Amarjyoti Borah
The people have great expectations from me. I have to put in more effort to perform better and live up to their expectations”, says 38-year-old Ashutosh Agnihotri, a 1999 batch Assam-Meghalaya cadre IAS officer who is creating ripples as the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Kamrup Metro district of Assam. In just a decade of service and 13 postings, he has done many things that others may not even have dreamt of.
Agnihotri is a confirmed workaholic and man of action — for a man who has almost just started, he has managed to create an enviable reputation that follows him wherever he goes. The people of Dibrugarh and Nalbari, where he was DC before shifting to Kamrup, remember him as a ‘down to earth’ bureaucrat and common man’s DC. An innovative architect of administrative reforms, Agnihotri, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, is winning the hearts and minds of the people of Assam.
Strangely, the very things that make him popular with people invariably land him into trouble, though he may not intend things to happen that way. He is a man who never gives up even when it’s an uneven fight against bigger odds. Though he has paid a price for his crusade against corruption, Agnihotri is determined to take the fight to the finish.
As a firebrand young IAS officer, Agnihotri was instrumental in several development works in his previous tenures. Among other things, he was instrumental in exposing a major driving licence scam in Nalbari. Fake driving licences were being issued on such a big scale that the situation was proving to be a nightmare for the police. Public complaints were piling up. A preliminary enquiry revealed that several big names were involved in what was an organised racket. Someone had to act, so Agnihotri stepped in and along with a hand-picked team bust the racket. This gave him the reputation of being a no-nonsense administrator. He came with this reputation to Kamrup. It is his second stint here as DC where for the first time as secretary finance in Assam he had replaced J Balaji.
During his first stint, immediately after taking over as DC Kamrup Metro, he had started a drive against corruption and inefficiency. Among other things, he tightened the screws on government officials and made it compulsory for them to reach office on time. He conducted surprise checks and used to punish late-comers and those found to be misusing their official positions.
Another of his major initiatives was to go on a massive drive to free government land from the clutches of various land mafias on the outskirts of Guwahati. These land mafias were very powerful. Thus, in an unprecedented move, he invoked the provisions of the Assam Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, 2010, to book the culprits and formed special committees to resolve land disputes.
My battle against corruption and inefficiency in the district
administration or any other department will continue ”
The cumulative effect of all this made him so unpopular that in less than five months into his tenure even the officials of the DC office threatened to stay away from election duties if he continued. Soon Agnihotri was transferred out as secretary finance, and Managing Director, Assam Financial Corporation. Here too he pointed out so many anomalies and revealed so many skeletons in the finance department cupboard that someone, somewhere decided that he was better off in Kamrup. So, he came back to Kamrup as DC again.
Immediately after taking charge, he made his intentions clear in an exclusive interview to gfiles in which he said, “My battle against corruption and inefficiency in the district administration or any other department will continue.”
By giving a refreshing facelift to the Kamrup Metro administration, Agnihotri is demonstrating the difference it makes when a practicing administrative reformer gets going. He has introduced many innovative initiatives like an SMS complaint cell and toll-free helpline service to make the government accountable and answerable to the people. This means a big change with the government being at the beck and call of the people. It is a new format of governance where the approach is to provide a service with a smile.
Already Guwahati, a part of Kamrup Metro district, despite its huge expansion and steep rise in population, is pacing ahead among the top 100 fastest growing cities of the world and is the 5th fastest growing Indian city, according to a survey by a prominent UK media entity.
Being a techno-savvy administrator, Agnihotri is now focusing on using technology as a force multiplier in weeding out corruption and ‘arbitrarism’ from the administrative process. Agnihotri’s promise to the people in the district is clean, corruption-free administration.
“Whether it is a case of land grabbing, encroachment, cutting of hills, unfair trade practices in fair price shops or water-logging—it is the right of every complainant to receive feedback from the government within one week of lodging the complaint on the toll-free number,” says the young Deputy Commissioner.
All this is just the beginning. He has many plans in the pipeline. These include setting up of a separate public facilitation for women, senior citizens, ex-servicemen and the physically challenged. Other plans include streamlining of traffic and the transport system in Guwahati besides improving connectivity and roads, and construction of parks and jogging tracks for the people.
All these are a part of a bigger strategy to improve transparency and efficiency while reducing corruption and leakages. “What I have done is just a part of what a DC can do, a lot more still remains to be done,” Agnihotri says.
All this rings a bell if you recall what Agnihotri had told gfiles before moving out of Kamrup for the first time. “My work will always go on. It doesn’t matter whether I am posted as a DC at some district or as a secretary in the finance department,” he had said. It can be safely said now that he continues to work by this mantra! g