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'We are getting positive response on plastic ban'

Thursday, June 28, 2018
Photograph by Trupti Arekar

After the government's ban on use of plastic in the state, she has been ruthlessly cracking down against vendors and establishments who have continued to use plastic despite the government's directive. She can be easily called  the 'face' within the BMC, leading the fight against use of plastic products. The firebrand IAS officer, who is currently the Deputy Municipal Commissioner (Special), is also leading a team of 249 civic inspectors, who ensure the government order is diligently followed. The civil servant has formerly served as CEO of Palghar Zilla Parishad and brought about some serious developments. The young bureaucrat, NIDHI CHOUDHARI interacts with ADC’s PRACHI SONAWANE

Tell us something about your life?
I was born in a village named Balmsandat in Nagaur district of Rajasthan. I graduated from Government College in Dindwana. I was good at reading, but I was living in a place where girls were not allowed to study. Actually reading and typing was not easy, but one thing was good for me that I had full support of my parents. I am here because of them. I have a younger brother, who is an IAS of 2014 batch and my sister is a 2009 batch IPS.

What are the challenges you faced while completing your education?
I have completed my schooling and graduation from a very small village of Rajasthan and my biggest challenge was to complete my education and I was fortunate to have parents who stood by us and against the society which promoted child marriage. My parents were also against those parents who used to ask why are you giving your children education, so that they will become IAS or IPS officers?

Did you always want to become an IAS officer since childhood?
Obviously not, it's not possible because we have never seen any IAS officer in my family. Actually, our background was such that none of us could think of reaching the post of Tehsildar. I was a student of Public Administration during my graduation. But it all started when I got my Public Administration syllabus. From childhood, I always wanted to be independent and stand on my own feet. So, I started writing and that became my passion and the idea of doing something for society was always in my mind. I started writing small articles on social issues. What motivates me more was doing something for society.

From your career as writing, how it happened that you took up IAS as a career?
It happened because my sister got into IPS in 2009.

What was the overall reaction of the society and your family on your decision to be an IAS officer?
Before getting into IAS, I was working with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as a manager in 2006 and the job was very good. In 2006, my sister got into IPS. When she joined IPS some relatives said, “Join kiya toh kya, training thodi karegi(so what if she has joined IPS, will she do her training)?” because they were thinking that in our society, we have not got any exposure and whether she will able to take this up as a career. But she completed it and in 2010 she came to meet me in Kolkata and told me that I should also write an examination once, which will give me maximum opportunity to work for society and RBI will give me limited opportunity because that is only located in the state capital. So, that was my turning point and during my pregnancy, I started preparing for my UPSC examination. When my son was born, I got into Women Audit Account Service and then after two years I got into IAS. By then, people around me and my family surrendered to positive thoughts that a girl can also do something in the world if she wants to. They accepted that if a girl gets full support, she can achieve anything.

Before working in Palghar District Council and working in MCGM, you worked as Assistant Collector in Pen, Raigad district, please tell us about the challenges you had to face?
An assignment was given to me in Pen to hold elections. There were approximately 360 polling stations. Pen, Roha and Pali were three tehsils in my control for election. When I participated in the first meeting organised by the District Collector, they were only concerned about Pen, due to the unstable area and were concerned about Pen. They asked me to pay attention to Pen. This was the work which was entrusted to me to complete my training immediately after returning to Maharashtra and I used whatever I learned in the Academy. I knew my role as an Executive Magistrate and so I issued several orders under section 107, 110 and 144 (3) of the CRPC. My action was highlighted as it was under the provisions of Section 143 of CrPC. I assured that there will be no bias during the operation under the CRPC. During the elections, I visited every polling station. I replaced many polling stations, where I believed there could be problems due to their reach. The election in Pen was very peaceful.

The second most important assignment for me in Pen was land acquisition for the National Highway. To work from Panvel to Manangon National Highway. I joined the Divisional Commissioner's meeting and they were very disappointed about the progress of land acquisition. The responsibility of land acquisition was entrusted to me in the meeting. I read the entire law and order of land acquisition and then started working on it, and in 78 villages, land acquisition was completed. When I started the land acquisition process, there were issues of structures- more than 1,100 structures were built on the entire patches and the biggest issue was that this area was quite rural and had many problems. There were not only villages here, but four cities too. In such a situation, it was a very difficult task to implement many things.
We demolished about 1,187 buildings in four tehsils. There were 12 religious temples in the way from Panvel to Margao. Basically, there was a village, where a temple with electricity was built. I was informed that I can demolish all the structures, but the religious sentiments of the people related to the temple must be respected. I went there and assured the people and it was easily removed from there peacefully. Then, I was the CEO of Palghar Zilla Parishad for just 15 months.

Palghar is a rural and tribal area. There, I tried to do a lot on basic issues such as health, nutrition, education and women. Fortunately, due to Mumbai being close to this locality, we received lot of support from the government and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), many Anganwadi children were brought into the realm of modernity. In just 15 months, I converted 1500 schools into digital education.

This helped me a lot with the help of MLA funds and CSR. Palghar District Council was the first to declare a budget for women. The entire budget of the District Council was dedicated to women. There was huge issue of toilets here. In just 15 months, we freed it from open toilets. During my tenure, Palghar was freed from open toilets.

How difficult was it to implement this plastic ban in Mumbai?
We have just begun and problems will arise. But in a city like Mumbai, people will support it because they see the series of floods during monsoons, drains getting blocked by plastic. So people here are more sensitised already because they see effects of the overuse of plastic. Last year, there were floods mainly due to plastic blocking drains.
What are problems faced by the 249 officers while they go for inspection?
Many times they are welcomed and we are getting positive response. Even the owners of shops have now started telling us that they are in favour of this plastic ban and people are actually sending me photos that they are now using cloth bags instead of the plastic bags.

As a female IAS officer, how difficult it is to implement such big task and heading a huge team for this plastic ban?
It's not difficult because as a woman, it gives me more encouragement to work towards issues related to environment, culture. There are no difference between men and women. However, I feel women are more sensitive towards issues which men might not be.

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