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My Tripura Days !!!
Kiran Gitte, IAS
My Tripura Days !!!

It was on 12th June 2006 that we arrived in Agartala for the first time. Previously, I was working in Pune from where we came by train upto Howrah, stayed in Tripura Bhavan, Pretoria Street and then boarded ATR flight from Kolkata airport.

                 During training period, I was assigned South Tripura district and on arrival at Agartala airport found that a Maruti Gypsy was waiting for me and my family. I was accompanied by my spouse Usha and little Shourya, who was just 10 months then!! When I met Dr. Sabahat Azim, who was coordinating IAS training, he handed over me a laptop and inquired about my stay and family. Next day, we proceeded to Udaipur with little luggage we were carrying and stayed in circuit house for few days. As I was with family, the District Collector Puneet Agarwal sir allotted me a Government quarter, which was earmarked for Project Director, DRDA as the post was lying vacant for time being. Every IAS officer has to encounter similar journey in their allotted State. When I inquired about the experience of my batch mates posted in other States, we were better placed given the warmth of the people and the officers in Tripura, in spite of several logistical limitations.

               Our parents joined us in September 2006. My father was suffering from lung cancer, which was in the last stage and he wished to visit Tripura at least once. He walked through almost all the streets in Udaipur even though he was half paralyzed with support of other person. He went to Khilpara bazaar and bought a cow so that Shourya can get fresh milk daily. Even though we could hardly accommodate a cow in a government quarter, we respected his decision being a farmer. Very soon, I was known as IAS probationer who also keeps a cow at home!

  Midway during the district training, I was entrusted with responsibility of recently launched MNGREGA scheme, which was huge and very critical during the first year. This provided me a sense of confidence that I am on right track of training as the Collector had reposed faith in me in the midst of availability of several other officers.

               After district training, I was posted as Sub Divisional Magistrate, Ambassa. I was given an understanding that even though it was a small sub-division, it was crucial being the headquarters of most challenging district, Dhalai. I recollect tribal people thronging in administrative camps and I could see the poverty in Tripura first hand. The Assembly Elections of 2008 came as a first challenge to test the administrative skills. Just before the polling day, I was informed about the change of polling station from Shikaribari to Khagendra Roaja Para, which required 23 KM uphill walk. I had to convince the Central Paramilitary Forces, the Superintendent Police and motivate the polling staff to proceed within an hour to walk in the dark. Those few hours gave me a glimpse of administrative challenges in hilly areas of the State. Little I knew that I would return here as a Collector within two years!!

                The sitting MLA was elected with margin of just 115 votes, the least in the State for that year. The losing candidate did not ask for recounting and said I completely trust the process followed by the Returning Officer. For me, the comment was not only about the election procedure but a kind of certificate of my hard work and fair conduct of elections. It did boost my confidence and within a week I was transferred as SDM, Dharmanagar, the second biggest town after Agartala!

                Dharmanagar offered us a new setting – plain area, buzzing town with merchants and traders, working rail link with Assam, more people could speak Hindi, a Montessori school for Shourya, a cook who could make a roti and beautiful house on the bank of sprawling Kali dighi. People thronged ‘office tilla’ and looked up to me to resolve land issues ranging from encroachments, boundary disputes, ownership conflicts and family succession matters. A series of Lok Adalats and field visits provided me opportunity to interact with people to understand their psyche and expectations from the administration. I could streamline the food supplies, payments of scholarships and issue of citizen certificates. I vividly remember a Panchayat Samiti chairman applying for caste certificate during last week of my tenure and as he apprehended whether he could get it so smoothly ever after. We registered over 35,000 marriages within a month and the Governor Shri. D N Sahay distributed it in a function organized in the Town Hall. The failure to handle crowd on the stage gave me first lesson in event management. I took on the gang which was adultering the petrol products in IOC depot and in hindsight believe that this action landed me in Agartala Municipal Council (new Corporation) as the first IAS officer to head it.

                On 30th January 2009, my first day in AMC, I saw more than 500 labourers gathered in the old office at Battala to receive their payments. They left no space for citizen to enter or to seek their grievances. People wanted to pay taxes but we had no hands or desk to receive it. Employee issues dominated the Council deliberations and citizen remained at the periphery. AMC required surgery and for that we shifted it to the CityCenter hoping new building would cultivate a new mindset. Started with distribution of idle lying shops in markets, regular cleaning of city, installing street lights, simplifying tax collection and so on.  When we took on the illegal mobile towers and buildings in the city and stopped water theft by seizing the pumps, the citizen of Agartala rallied behind the municipal administration. Here, I must mention about support provided by Late Shankar Das, the then Chairperson of AMC.

                Stage was set for development of several projects in Agartala which came up in last few years.                 Chief Minister asked me to visit Gas Crematorium in Shillong which led to establishment of modern Crematorium at Battala ghat. The same year saw the return of the City Bus in Agartala after gap of two decades. The CityCenter brought first few brands flocking to Agartala, beginning of new shopping experience. The drain coverage took off with an aim of reducing pollution, widening of the roads and creation of footpaths and parking space. The slum resettlement project of “Vivekananda Avasan” became a new model for urban cities. The old markets in Agartala are getting facelift as the traders are coming forward to work with AMC. Last year, the beautification drive has started which will change the landscape in Agartala over next four to five years.

                I would always cherish the AMC tenure as I was part of enhancing its effectiveness from end-to-end – from creating a logo for AMC to proclaiming ‘Citizen Charter’ guarantying time bound provision of 17 services for citizens of Agartala.

                We were blessed with daughter “Shreeya” in March 2010 and within couple of months went back to Dhalai district as the Collector. My mother stayed with us for few months and always encouraged me to visit tribal villages to attend to their problems. Even now she stays in a village in Beed district of Maharashtra and she could empathize with villagers in Tripura. I walked from Manikpur to Chakbeha in Chawmanu Block and back, 35 KMs mountainous journey in single day - in June 2010. My mother said that I no more belonged to her alone but also to all mothers living in Tripura. This motivated me to take up road and power connectivity to all villages in Dhalai district which included cutting mythological Hathimatha to connect bordering villages 30 KM away from Gandacherra. Difficult terrain, scarcity of skilled manpower, logistical difficulties compelled us to launch “Gatisheel Prashashan Abhiyaan” to speed up the development process. I was provided with opportunity to visit Singapore in March 2011 to study the urban development projects. May be it was an indication of coming challenges as I would join District collector in Agartala within few months.

                 My engagement with mountains continued even after joining in urban dominated West Tripura district. I visited Nunacherra along with Minister Khagendra Jamatia and started the road construction work in November 2011 and today one can drive to the place once known as most remote in the State. Similarly, I went to Maindanbari in Tulashishar Block along with local MLA Sachindra Debberma and drew up blue print of taking road up there, which is now in progress. This was in true sense the last mile in connecting remote villages in the State.

                West Tripura district was trifurcated and new sub-divisions were created. The peripheral areas were separated and the new district remained as Agartala centric. As the focus on the City development and demand on land has increased manifold, the workload never came down. The Chief Secretary always reminded us of our responsibilities towards ‘silent many’ of rural areas rather than just focus on ‘vocal few’ in cities. His idea of making ‘one plus one eleven’ is novel and it opened new frontiers and challenges for us to meet. 

                The last couple of years witnessed visits of the Bangladesh Prime Minister, President of India, Vice President of India twice and many more VIPs flocking to Agartala as infrastructure has considerably improved backed up with warm hospitality of our people. During the visit of Shaikh Hasina, about a lakh of people gathered voluntarily in Assam Rifles ground to see and listen her, which remains unprecedented to date.

                The Assembly Elections 2013 set national record of voter turnout and will be remembered as watershed in the history of the State as it was totally peaceful without any violent incident. The Election Observers praised the enthusiasm of the voters, low cost campaign by the political parties and efficient handling of elections by the administration. Working with the guidance of Ashutosh Jindal sir as CEO, this remains a high point of my tenure in Agartala.

            Post Assembly Elections, the district administration took up special drives against illegal chit funds, hoardings and pilferage of ration commodities and controlling the menace of middlemen in land transactions. The anti-chit fund drive received support from SEBI, RBI and the main purpose of protecting people’s hard earned money was achieved.

                In recent times, the two important projects initiated are modernization of Agartala Airport into international airport and railway connectivity with Bangladesh. These two projects would bring Agartala and Tripura on world map and would have long impact on the development of the State.

                In last 8 years, we stayed 3000 KMs away from our native place. As a family, the stay was very difficult as we were cut-off from our relatives and social functions back home for a long time. We missed sharing happy as well as difficult moments with our near and dear ones. At the same time, it helped me and Usha to realize the worth of each other as spouses and brought us really close. Our children had spent early part of their childhood in Tripura and the impression would always remain on their young minds.

                Its time to say good bye for now! My transfer to Maharashtra is just an interval and I would be eager to resume duties here in few years. That would be a new innings in partnership with the people of Tripura!

                Thank you all for the support all along !


* Mr. Kiran Gitte is an officer of 2005 batch IAS and working in Tripura since last 8 years. The views expressed in this article are personal.*

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