Dharmendra Jore: Mantralaya has got its makeover; now, it's the govt that needs one
The bureaucracy must pay attention to people's issues, and not just when they decide to take a drastic step
In the past 18 years, I have been a passionate witness to the changes the state headquarters has undergone. Governments rolled in and moved out, many new babus replaced the bureaucracy's fancy and powerful. Mantralaya's main building caught a devastating fire and then assumed a modern avatar - all laced with faster elevators, elegant escalators and a plush atrium.
What didn't change all these years are the concrete pillars on which the renovated Mantralaya stands headstrong, and an infinite flow of visitors seeking resolution to their problems. Most visitors who go there without any 'proper connection' complain that their acute distress gets lost in the glitter that the swanky ministerial and secretarial offices emit.
They find their hopes come crashing down further when the middle-level officialdom treats them with the indifference and disdain that beats the very sense of humane approach at workplaces.
That's when a hopeless Dharma Patil and Harshal Raote are forced to take the extreme step of ending their lives, right there at the state headquarters, where people expect the government to find a solution to every problem, including the issues which may not be possible to be fixed under the law of the land.
They expect the government to find out why the law does not favour them while the same law offers justice to others. They want such laws changed. Not all seekers may be right, but then, not all are wrong when a sensitive approach is taken to understand their plight.
Waking up, but temporarily
The government did wake up, but only after octogenarian Dharma Patil's death. The bereaved family is likely to get more than Rs 50 lakh in compensation for the land that earlier was valued at a mere R4 lakh. We may just imagine the reaction of the family if the reasonable money had been paid when the patriarch was fighting for it.
Agreed that the family should have protested under the land acquisition law before accepting a meagre compensation; maybe, he did not know by then that the neighbouring farmer had managed more than R1 crore for the same area. How did the discrimination happen? Simple. Patil's neighbour got a middleman to broker a deal with the revenue officials who certified his land as very expensive.
Now, the Mantralaya mandarins know the root cause of the problem. They can scrap all fishy deals and prosecute the people responsible. Shouldn't government officers, middlemen and politicians, who are said to be part of lucrative deals, be punished in an unprecedented manner? No more clean chits.
Murder convict Raote's case hasn't evoked much adverse reaction for the government because of the nature of the crime he was involved in. It is assumed that he too had gone to Mantralaya to get his furlough extended or his life sentence reduced. He was there pressing for his demand, which was his legitimate right in a democratic set-up. Explanations are coming that reducing his sentence wasn't possible at this stage. If so, then, who promised him the impossible? A middleman, a political stooge, or a government guy?
Fault lies from top to bottom
Successive chief ministers haven't made a serious attempt to know why the people whose plaints should be heard and redressed at a lower perch of the political and administrative system are brought up to the highest echelons of it.
The suffering needs to be treated immediately after it bleeds the victim. If the cure is not possible at non-Mantralaya level, then the government should empower the lower level with the authority to do so.
It may have some riders to ensure that the empowerment is not grossly misused. Preventing the ailment from becoming viral should be the priority. People wishing to draw the government's attention have now found an effective way. Just go to Mantralaya and consume poison, try to immolate one self, or leap to one's death. For they know the media laps it up and the government wakes up.
In view of all the suicide attempts, the government has begun fortifying Mantralaya, but the disadvantage of it is that common citizens may not necessarily be given access to important people, giving rise to accusations that the government is again denying them their legitimate right.
And lastly, everything boils down to the chief minister and his Cabinet, which can no longer blame the people who approach after being hassled by lower offices. What are these people expected to do if they are meted out similar treatment at Mantralaya as well?
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to email@example.com