Daffodils of life

[ Dr Sher Singh Sangwan ]

I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils. – William Wordsworth 

Daffodils symbolize new beginnings and rebirth. One of the daffodils of my life dates back to 2002, when I was posted as the NABARD’s state-in-charge in Arunachal Pradesh.

Shortly after joining, in September, I along with our consultant went to monitor the 45 km road from Sagalee to Mangio in Papum Pare district, which involved our assistance of Rs 29 crores. The work consisted of: formation cutting with curves, hundreds of culverts, two medium-sized bridges and almost continuous retaining and breast walls. Our consultant (a retired chief engineer) neatly recorded, in black ink, chain-wise shortfalls in width of cuttings and curves, thickness of culvert slabs, compacting and fixing of walls, etc. We monitored about 20 kms, working almost non-stop from 11 am to 4 pm. The standard of work was uniformly poor and the reason was hundreds of petty non-professional contractors working on small patches of the road. It was due to the fact that land compensation was not given in Arunachal and, in lieu of that, contracts were given to the villagers as per their land.

We were taken for lunch-cum-dinner to a village. It was a marriage-like pandal with hundreds of gaon burahs present. After the meal, I was asked to address the village heads. I spoke slowly in Hindi and told them that I was interested to give them maximum assistance for development but it must be properly utilized.

I further told them that the quality of work inspected was so poor that it might result in accidents and the road itself may collapse in a short time. I ended by saying that they must insist that the contractors do good work.

The inspection report was duly sent to the NABARD head office in Mumbai and the PWD of Arunachal, and payment of the next installment of Rs 4.50 crores was stopped. After about a month, I received a call from the MLA of that area (then horticulture minister and later CM) to release the amount. I politely told him, “Sir, I want you to be minister again and again.” He asked me what I meant, I told him, “If good work is done, people will elect you repeatedly, but the work of this road is very bad.” He was a polite man and did not say anything. But after another 15 days or so, he requested me if I could go to his office.

On reaching there, I found another MLA of that area and the contractors. The minister introduced me and said, “Listen carefully to Dr Sangwan.” I explained, at length, the defects and shortfalls. Then I advised the minister to follow up with the chief engineer (CE) to send us the compliance report. After another fortnight, I received a call from one of our then executive directors (ED) from Mumbai, asking me about the current position. The minister and one Rajya Sabha member had approached him in Mumbai. I had, in the meantime, received the compliance letter from the CE, so I told the ED that I would release the installment but with a caution that it would be stopped again if the quality deteriorated.

I visited the project again along with the consultant in February 2003, and was happy that the works had been redone in most of the indicated points and we could drive upto Mangio, the last village on the road. On returning to Itanagar, I got this news published in local Arunachal Times: it came as a surprise to senior officers of the state that the NABARD OIC could go to such a remote place. Due to strict monitoring, this road was almost complete, except black carpeting of a 7 km patch. It took another 10 years to complete that work as I ascertained when I visited Arunachal as a consultant after retirement in 2011. (Dr Sher Singh Sangwan is former General Manager, NABARD. He can be reached at drsangwan8@gmail.com)