'Capability speaks'

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By HOT SEAT: ROOPA MISHRA, DISTRICT COLLECTOR OF KHURDA SHILPI SAMPAD AND SUBHASHISH MOHANTY
  • Published 1.10.11
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You started your career as the sub-collector of Khurda in 2006 and you are now back as the Khurda collector. How do you visualise the changes in the district?

Khurda has changed a lot. Interestingly, it is one district that has a mix of a large urban as well as rural population. The urban part, including Bhubaneswar and its peripheries, has developed a lot. So, the control pertaining to land has grown equally. The delivery of services to the urban population has emerged as a challenge. The rural part is also growing, but certainly not at the same pace as urban Khurda. So our immediate concern is to provide basic utility services to the people in the district.

Khurda has been on the Maoist hit list for quite some time. What special measures have been taken by the district administration to tackle the challenge?

Some areas are on alert and our preparedness has increased. Regular coordination meetings are being held between the collector and the law enforcement agencies. We are following certain precautions such as restricting movement at night and not making prior announcements before visiting interior areas.

It is a popular perception that the Khurda collector plays second fiddle when it comes to making decisions on important issues relating to Bhubaneswar.

Though Bhubaneswar technically comes under the Khurda collector, there are specialised agencies such as the BMC, the BDA or the police commissionerate to look after the capital city and its peripheries. So, there is no question of playing second fiddle; we are all playing our independent roles.

Earlier, the superintendent of police was under the collector and magistrate. With the introduction of the police commissionerate system, do you think there is a conflict of power between the magistrate and police?

No. The commissionerate has numerous challenges of urban policing. For example, if the magistrate today requires police assistance for a particular work like demolition or eviction, prior correspondence has to be made. Earlier, a telephone call used to suffice. However, it is not unhealthy at all. If the police were at the beck and call of every person, they would not have the time to perform their duties.

You were the collector of Kalahandi for 14 months. Do you agree that officers, who were part of the district administration there, showed extra eagerness in promoting Vedanta’s interests?

I don’t agree at all. Development is about the overall growth of the people but at the same time, you cannot say industrialisation is a negative thing. However, it should not be done at the cost of the people. During my tenure as collector, nothing was done against people’s interests. Interestingly, villages which were opposing displacement five years ago are now demanding displacement.

But during your tenure, the people of Lanjigarh staged agitations against the administration.

It is only natural. When a huge industry comes, there are several concerns such as displacement, compensation, rehabilitation and employment. Whatever has been going on in Lanjigarh must be looked at as part of the world economy and its repercussions. But nowhere have we violated prescribed guidelines to favour any company.

Vedanta’s project threatens the livelihood of primitive tribals in Lanjigarh.

The only primitive tribal group in Kalahandi is Kutia Kondh. And their area is not threatened by the establishment of this industry. But, there are certain concerns. The resettlement and rehabilitation package which was offered to them five or six years ago does not look adequate to them today since Posco and others have offered a higher package. Also, they want direct placement in the company instead of being employed with its sister concerns.

Do you think you have left Kalahandi a better place than it was before you took over as the collector?

No single individual can ever bring about a change to make things better. It is the concerted efforts of politicians, administrators, line departments, NGOs, media and the people who make a difference.

Have you ever got into any confrontation with politicians who are generally overbearing?

No, no, there is never really a confrontation. The relation is not very cordial always but we (bureaucrats) should not think that politicians want things to be done differently. They have deep regard for rules.

Do you feel collectors are overburdened with work?

Yes, the responsibilities are increasing. All collectors have acute dearth of officers. But this is the demand of administration and one has to deliver.

You are the first woman IAS topper from Orissa. Have you felt disadvantaged being a woman collector?

Not really. However, when you go to a district, everybody observes your work for the first 24 hours to see if this lady knows her job or not. But the moment you start talking, they realise you are capable. I feel people respect the fact that I am a woman officer and a mother, and they don’t expect anything that would be inconvenient for me.

Topper all the way

Versatile and dynamic, Roopa Mishra, 34, is the collector of Khurda district. She became a household name after becoming the first woman from the state to top the IAS exams of 2003.

Born in Angul, Mishra has always been a topper. She completed her Plus Two (science) from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, and B.Com from BJB College, Bhubaneswar. She holds an MBA from Utkal University and has worked as a consultant at the varsity’s directorate of distance and continuing education for a year.

Mishra quit her job to prepare for the civil service exams. In 2003, she appeared for the exams and became Orissa’s first woman IAS topper. She was also the first married woman to achieve this feat.

Her first posting was in 2006 as Khurda sub-collector. In 2008 she became the deputy secretary in the home department. As the district magistrate and collector of Nabarangpur, she brought about positive changes in the health and agriculture sectors, worked towards creating a safe school environment for girl children and implementation of the rural job scheme.

As Kalahandi collector in 2010 she brought reforms in the electricity sector, procurement of paddy and establishment of the civil judge court in Bhawanipatna. She was transferred to Khurda in August 2011. Mishra is also an accomplished Odissi dancer.

What would you have been had you not been an IAS officer?

There are quite a few things that I would have taken up. I might have become a teacher and an Odissi dancer plus something else. I like being engaged in many activities. This attracted me to administration. The administrative services offer you a variety of challenges. And my parents (Usha Rani and Dandanirodh Mishra) always inspired me to chase my dreams. Even after my marriage, my husband (Anshuman Tripathy) continued to provide me the same amount of encouragement like my parents did and this helped me achieve my goals.