The upmarket South city in the Capital poses many a challenge for DistrictMagistrate Niharika Rai. Yet, she approaches her task undeterred by them. This is more so when it comes to dealing with land grabbers. Amresh Srivastava speaks to her for this interview. Excerpts:
Question: The South district in Delhi is one of the largest districts of the Government of Delhi. What are the major challenges or tasks that you face from administrative points of view?
Niharika Rai: I feel my district is unique in the sense that it is so called poshest area where the big shots have their residences or properties but at the same time I have few areas where still the people live as primitive villagers, especially if you go to the 100 foot road towards Asola and Bhaati, you will find people living in village kind of conditions. Of course, the village kind conditions cannot be compared with particular typical village because people had land here that they sold and built up structures and some of them doing cattle farming and some cultivation. Of course, they are not typical villages. But then our responsibility becomes dual and more important because we have to cater the requirements of all classes of citizens of the district. We have to see that people who apply for various kind of certificates whether it is income, or domicile or caste certificates they are given in time. They are given on priority. We are very vigilant in checking the income certificates because on the basis of that the EWS category admissions are also claimed in various schools and getting admission and especially schools in Delhi is again a problem so we have to be very vigilant in such kind of urbane issues.
Then people do complain to us regarding cleanliness issues. Lack of cleanliness in certain parts whereas unauthorised constructions coming up in various parts so we take up these issues with MCD on regular basis because checking up an unauthorised construction is their domain and cleanliness is also their domain. So whenever we get complaint, we coordinate with them. As and when the things come to notice, we do take action and we too have our own surveys at times because we have lots of Gram-Sabha lands in the villages which are the community land and the BDO (Block Development Officer) is custodian and those lands we give to various governmental departments for their infrastructure. So we have to protect them from encroachment. That is a big issue in this area and plus, it’s a very vital responsibility of ours in the rural villages because Gram Sabha is relevant in rural areas while in the urban areas, the lands have mostly gone to the DDA. This is one task and we continuously organise anti-encroachment drives. We have been doing it since last year more rigourously. We have been able to take out land worth Rs 100 cores from various mafia and we are trying to fence the lands which we got hold of and prevent the re-encroachment. A lot of efforts and coordination goes on in protecting the particular land. We need to coordinate with Delhi Police for availability of force and also take a lot of measures wherever the encroachments come to our notice either through some complaints or through our surveys, we take immediate remedial action.
Question: How do you keep surveillance on those kinds of lands?
We have Panchayat Secretaries under the BDO who have been allotted various villages; and then we have of course revenue staff in terms of Patwaris and Tahsildars. Then we have our civil defence volunteers in various parts of the South Delhi. I mean, generally our volunteers are enrolled with us. They have to be the residents of the south Delhi, treat them as our resource persons from the public. If they find anything wrong happening in their area, whether in terms of cleanliness or public nuisance, they bring it to our notice. So that means our information network is there.
Question : There are many historical monumentsand famous temples are located in your district. Many tourists, both domestic and foreign come to your area. So the security and sanitation are major challenge in your area. How do you tackle these issues?
Niharika Rai: We are in continuous touch with the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and also the State Government’s department in this respect. Tourist places are there in our district and, of course, we are proud to say that we have the Qutub Minar with us which is very close to this office. Then we have a Dargah in Mehrauli and we have so many monuments. What we do, because, we are the custodians in the sense of Disaster Management in the district as well, we have district disaster management authority here of which we are the chairperson. What we do is we continuously organise mock drills and some exercises so as to ensure that in case any eventuality like stampede, bomb hoax or fire or something, the people are ready and all the communities and all the stakeholders are ready to tackle the situation. One exercise we have recently in Qutub Minar and we have done it also in Hause Khas. These are prone to disaster. Then we have done it in a lot of Metro Stations because our district has a lot of them. Now the next target would be to do it, may be near some religious places like Chhatarpur Mandir.
Question: Strike by MCD workers is causing great problems in Delhi. Is your district also affected by this strike?
As of now, we have not received any specific complaint from any portion of South district as is the case with East Delhi. If any complaint comes from any area, we will coordinate for the remedial action.
Question: There are important educational institutions like IIT, Indira Gandhi Open University are located in your area. Thousands of students from other States come to these institutions to study. In past we have seen some stray incidents like manhandling and misbehaviour targeting students from North East. How big is this task for you to provide them safe stay in Delhi?
Niharika Rai: As far as the issue of manhandling is concerned, the police do take care of these things. Here we have North East Community Coordination committee in the district. What we do is the ADM is chairing the Committee. We hold the meetings with North East organisations and students from time to time and ask for the problems if they are facing any and we try to resolve it. Two incidents in the past related to the North East students had led to lack of the confidence among them to some extent. So we always ask them to come to us if they have any problem. They have always our support and in case any problem arises they can always come to us.The general mentality of people is if anything related to criminal act or criminal problem comes, they contact police for resolving it.
Question: Many girl students are also staying in this locality in private accommodations. There are some complains in the past of harassment of the girls by landlords too. How challenging is to provide security to them?
Niharika Rai: we have a helpline no 1077 in Delhi which is related to the disaster management. But, of course, anybody who is facing problem can approach us. Apart from that now the Government is thinking on the lines of soon coming up with the ‘Mahila Suraksha Bals (women security force).
Question: Is this apart from the security arrangement made by Delhi Police?
Niharika Rai: Yes, because the civil defence is exclusively with us .So this is one force which is quite active and energetic and is willing to work in the field. And any kind of mishappening happens to female or a male anybody in the society it is like disaster only. So we always want people for crowd management and we really want that this materialises very soon. We are working on it so that people get confidence. Now with certain past incidents, we know certain vulnerable areas to focus on.
Question: The south district organises an annual function called “Phool Walon Ki Sair”to strengthen communal harmony under the auspice of Delhi Government. Yet there is a trust deficit among the communities. What else should be done to ensure amity and brotherhood among various ethnic and social groups? Don’t you think that this kind of noble idea to carry out in other parts of the city too?
Niharika Rai: Of course, I believe it’s a noble idea. Since my district has already has it, I urge the Government to replicate this idea in various parts of the city and as well as in the country. The Mehrauli is one area which predominantly occupied by Muslims besides Hindus. I have personally witnessed the Phool Walon Ki Sair and the way that kind of urge, that kind of happiness and confidence with which different kind of communities mingle during this occasion. It is very much visible in people living in that area. This is fact that we do not hear anything abrupt and communal happening in this area. I also remember, people managing Dargah. I being a Hindu, people managing Dargah are Muslims. They are open, warm and with open heart call us. They called me to the Dargah. I go there. They helped me to perform everything at Dargah which a women is allowed to perform. I felt warmth comes from them. I feel really important that gives you an open hand ,you should replicate, reciprocate in same gesture so that everybody in the community ,whether it is a minority ,whether it is a backward class, or a forward class ,everybody should have a confidence. And one more thing, I am sure, I myself exercise and my all staff here I ensure that they exercise to never differentiate anybody on the basis of their caste, community or anything because sometime during our functioning I have seen that there are few of us who prefer the community and religion rather than the feeling that we are officers. We are bound to function above our religious feelings. No personal feeling should come up while dispensing our official duty. And i am pretty sure this is one thing which I will always exercise myself and I will urge everyone to exercise, that is to keep your duty first. If your public starts feeling that they are going to a particular religion, or caste person and therefore cannot get themselves heard, then it is a failure of our system.