There’s a certain image of District Collectors travelling in convoys as they go about their inspections or for routine travelling. But Sandeep GR, collector of Chhatarpur, and former commissioner of the municipal corporation in Jabalpur prefers travelling on his bicycle. “The idea is to look at what the citizens go through in terms of the services we’re providing. The moment we travel in a car we’re not able to understand that,” he tells The Better India in a phone interview.
“There are two different worlds, in the office and out on the street,” he adds. Travelling on a bicycle allows him to understand the realities of lived experiences better and helps him get a clearer grasp of the place. “Being from the All India Services, we’re not from this particular place. So to understand it, you need to travel on foot or cycle.”
For instance, he noticed how in Jabalpur’s hospital multiple entry points were creating chaos, and how there wasn’t enough infrastructure to manage waiting areas, leading to people loitering around outside. They’re now working on rectifying the issue. He also saw a lot of women sitting outside in the parking lot right after their delivery, sunbathing their children. “We’re now developing a maternity wing in the hospital where each ward will have a balcony for sunbathing.”
Searching for sustainable solutions
Besides having his ear to the ground, Sandeep also births initiatives to tackle long-standing issues in the country. One such idea is the planting of a fruit forest to help with the concept of food security. “This was an idea that was sown way before I got into the services.” Such a forest, with fruits throughout the year, allows for the distribution of food among the less fortunate, he thought.
“Of course, we provide rations, but in urban areas, the moment we plant these trees there will be the elimination of any issues with food security.” Within the public distribution system (PDS) there’s a supply-chain mechanism, from procurement to distribution. “But this model we’re working on is more localised. So we are protected from the vagaries of any demand-supply issues of PDS. This is a local, self-sustainable, food security model.”
About 30,000 trees were planted in Jabalpur in October 2021, which are now giving fruits like bananas, lemons, mangoes, jackfruits, mulberries and more. These plants are now going through a two to three-year gestation period, after which they will start bearing fruits, which will be distributed among the less fortunate, he says.
“It will take some time to structuralise the process of redistributing this among the poor, that’s something we’re planning. But at least we’re getting initial good results. We’re also trying to link up with a few food processing agencies to see how these can be converted or utilised and distributed. We’re working on making it a sustainable model.”
He’s now also working on planting 40,000 trees across an 11-acre plot in Chhatarpur.
Besides food security, Sandeep is also concerned about issues like women’s safety and cleanliness. “For these two dimensions, we were breaking our heads to get new solutions. But we realised that light was the simple solution.” A place that’s well lit automatically ensures lesser criminal activity and discourages garbage dumping. So he’s been spearheading the initiative of installing LED lights throughout the city of Jabalpur.
Since Jabalpur has low luminescence lights, increasing it was significantly affecting their budget, and they chose LED lights instead. These also have the advantage of having a centrally controlled monitoring system (CCMS). “So the moment a light turns off we can spot it on our mobile, and we’ve kept a 48-hour response time and we’re able to repair it within a day.”
A lot of people also used to steal electricity, the burden of which fell on the local urban body. But the CCMS has also eliminated that issue. “We’re putting the lights up and that’s reduced our cost by a third.” They’re now in the process of installing 40,000 LED street lights across the city.
A passionate problem-solver, he has also devised solutions to problems of cleanliness and road safety. By ensuring garbage vehicles follow a route on time, he’s reduced the city’s garbage vulnerable points (GVPs).
Chhatarpur’s District Collector for just seven months now, Sandeep is in his element, and now considering the challenges unique to this city. They’re working on creating a city that’s entirely accessible, from roads to public points and toilets for persons with disabilities (PwDs).
Edited by Yoshita Rao