In conversation with Divya Mittal , Vice Chairman – Bareilly Development Authority

Divya Mittal IAS
Divya Mittal IAS

Ms Divya Mittal IAS (Uttar Pradesh 2013)  an IAS officer of the UP cadre.  After training at LBSNAA, Mussoorie where she topped her batch and won the Ashok Bambawale award, she got a chance to present her ideas on Citizen Centric Service Monitoring to PM Narendra Modi ji during her posting in NITI Aayog. Prior to joining the Indian Administrative service, Divya worked as an Investment banker in JP Morgan London as a credit derivatives trader. There she developed complex models to value derivatives and risk-managed a multi-billion dollar portfolio of exotic derivatives. Divya is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi and did her MBA from IIM Bangalore and has been a Director’s merit certificate holder at both IIMB and IITD. A short interview when we met her recently ….

You have been posted as Vice Chairman of Bareilly Development Authority. What steps have you taken for the development of Bareilly city?

Over the last one year or so, we have worked on multiple fronts including the financial, cultural, social and environmental. The aim has been to improve the lives of people while at the same time strengthening the balance sheet of the organization.

We have heard that BDA was a loss making organization till 2019. How are the financials looking at the moment?

BDA had been accruing losses over the past few years. There was a huge debt overhang which was spiraling as more debt was required to serve the interest and salary costs. I am happy to share that this year we would report a profit of more than 40 crores. The team has worked really hard and BDA is now financially strong and we have been able to revive the organization.  Also there was a land acquisition which was done in 2002, but we were not able to pay the compensation to the farmers till now. With the profits that we have made, we have been able to make full farmer payments.

jhumka bareilly wala _bureaucracy_interview

What is it about the Bareilly Jhumka stories doing all over the news?

As you know, Bareilly’s name has been synonymous with Jhumka since Sadhana ji danced to the song ‘Jhumka gira re Bareilly ke bazaar mein’. Later, Madhuri Dixit danced on ‘Mera jhumka…jo gira tha bareli ke bazaar me’ and Kirti Sanon on ‘Bareilly waale Jhumke pe jiya lalchaaye’. This iconic symbolic connection was not there to see in the physical space till now. Finally, that Jhumka has been installed in Bareilly in partnership with the public. We inaugurated a 270 kg Jhumka at Zero Point – the entrance to the city on the Delhi-Bareilly road to give the city that iconic landmark. Significantly, no government money was spent on the project and funds were mobilized from the people of the city.

You mentioned about cultural and social steps , so can you tell us more about those?

Apart from the Jhumka as an iconic landmark, we have been working on multiple fronts. Bioremediation of ponds in the temples.

With a view to taking plantation to the people and making the activity a Jan Andolan we provided 11000 trees and 2000 tree guards, free of cost to people who are willing to adopt a tree as part of the ‘Together4Trees’ initiative in collaboration with Bareilly Chapter of CREDAI (a builder association).

We are also working on multiple other projects including setting up a Science Park in Bareilly, which would be largest of its kind in the whole state and developing a Miyawaki style city forest to improve the green cover. It is my endeavor to work on multiple fronts to improve the lives of people.

Lots of work to do, but any particular satisfying work that you have done as VC BDA?

There is a BDA colony for economically weaker sections, called Kargana Awasiya Yojana, which houses around 756 families. It was started in 1990, but immediately some disputes arose because of which BDA was unable to register the properties in the name of people. Due to the dispute the maintenance of the colony also suffered, stalling development works. We talked with the residents there and after many rounds of discussions, we were able to reach a mutually agreeable solution through which we are now able to give property rights to the 700+ families living there. Also the pending installments have now started coming in, which are being used by BDA to restart development and maintenance works there.

This was very satisfying for me because the matter had been disputed for more than 30 years and was having a substantially negative impact on the lives of the people living there. With the resolution of the problem, there will be a direct improvement in the lives of people living there.

What would you rate as  your most memorable posting apart from BDA?

I was posted as Chief development officer (CDO) of Gonda. There I got to do many interesting things and I feel I was able to directly impact the lives of many people. That is a posting that is very close to my heart.

Tell us any innovative initiative you undertook in Gonda?

I was struggling with effecting behaviour change against open defecation in district Gonda, the dirtiest Indian city as per Swachh Sarvekshan 2017. On world environment day 2017, we decided to plant culturally sacred plants like Bargad, Peepal, Tulsi etc at places where people were defecating in the open. 80 villages were selected for starting the initiative. People were awed to see the places associated with defecation to have religious symbols. The nudge led to lowered open defecation and increased rate of toilet usage. The idea was appreciated at the BIOFIN international workshop organized by Convention on Biological Diversity and was also documented as a MOOC lecture for Government of India.

So did this have a long term impact on the habits of people?

I think it did. Apart from this we did other things like swachhta stickers on school textbooks, conversion of office cars into swachhta raths (by sticking swachhta related stickers on them), screening of Toilet ek prem katha movie for women sarpanches (Many of them watched a movie in theatre for the first time) and many other things. All this led to a major change in attitude about swachhta and it became a ‘peoples’ movement’.

Then Gonda created history by constructing the highest number of toilets in the least amount of time. The key point is that the administration just acted as a facilitator by coordinating the ‘Mission32’ and the beneficiaries themselves constructed 32,000 toilets in 120 hours. Everyone witnessed a ‘Jan Andolan’ of sorts, with children ferrying bricks and construction happening through midnight. Mission 32, with 32000 toilets built in 120 hours, got us a place in ‘India Book of Records’.

Any other work or insight that has shaken you to still do better , that you feel impacted the lives of people?

Early-on in my posting as Chief Development Officer in Gonda, a poor lady asked me why the subsidy for houses never reached the poor.  What broke my heart, were not her words but that she didn’t even expect a redressal. On personal investigation, the statement rang true. Rich stealing from the poor, to me, is the worst kind of theft. Rule of law had to be established. Disregarding pressures from powerful entrenched interests, I empowered my team to crackdown on wrongdoers. My promise was that any harm would find me before reaching them, and they in turn delivered a knockout punch with unprecedented results- 16 teams raided 64 villages, 280 ineligible beneficiaries found, 57 FIRs on both officials and non-officials. But the real success was that subsidy for 1890 houses was surrendered to avoid punishment, which was then given to the poor. I also got the opportunity to share this case study with the IAS probationers at LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.

That remains very close to my heart because I could break the chain of stealing from the poor to some extent and was able to give them their rights.

Signing off by conveying our best to Divya Mittal and her team at Bareilly !! Our best always , now and forever !!

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