Of the thousands of roles and positions within the Indian bureaucracy, the three that are most capable of bringing about palpable change are that of the Prime Minister (PM), Chief Minister (CM) and District Magistrate (DM). The DM, who is referred to as the District Commissioner in certain states, is also known colloquially as the collector. It is widely believed that the DM’s authority within his/her respective district is virtually limitless.

The position of the DM came into effect back in 1772 under the British rule, wherein it was the DM’s job to collect land revenue on behalf of the Raj. However, since independence, the DM’s mandate has undergone some transformation.

A collector and his team are small government in and of themselves. If the DM of a certain district refuses to be a puppet for politicians and local mafias, he/she can bring positive impact in the lives of the masses. Their impact may not be ground-breaking but it is definitely enough to meet the basic expectations of the people.

The Pauri district of Uttarakhand and its District Magistrate Dhiraaj Garbyal is a testament to this fact. His efforts and evident passion for improving his district’s living conditions have shown that small steps can generate favorable socio-economic change.

(Dhiraaj Garbyal, District Magistrate, Pauri, Uttarakhand. Pic credits: India Times Group)

Since the state of Uttarakhand was constituted in the year 2000, Pauri district has been largely neglected but there is a palpable sense of change since the past one year. Through the introduction of new and community-centric development models, Dhiraaj Garbyal has helped transform not only the perception about Pauri but has provided its residents with a future to look forward to!

These models have focused on advancement in the fields of tourism, education, horticulture and animal husbandry. The Garhwali dialect is being taught to students from class I to V in Pauri’s schools. Some schools have also been familiarizing students with traditional Garhwali folk music and instruments at a young age. Furthermore, an economic model of home-stay, known locally as ‘BASA’, has been developed on the basis of collective participation towards bolstering the district’s tourism industry. Other events like the ‘Monsoon Marathon’ are reconnecting the youth with their heritage while simultaneously showcasing the best of what Pauri has to offer to the rest of the nation.

As a public servant, the role of the collector is to be responsible, sensitive and accountable to the people. Understanding people and realizing their needs in order to make fair decisions for its betterment is a lot easier said than done.  As millions of people returned to their villages amidst the nationwide lockdown, the ones returning to Pauri received letters in Garhwali from the Collectorate Office advising them to stay in their villages and to provide a helping hand in the fields. The kind gesture by DM Dhiraaj Garbyal resonated largely with the people of the districts.

Initially, the decision to teach Garhwali in schools was contested, as many still hold the opinion that learning Garhwali will not help students secure jobs in the future. However, doing so is crucial if we wish to preserve and promote our culture. How can we expect local businesses and societies to flourish if we ourselves stamp out of what makes us unique?

There was a desire for change and this led to the designing and publishing of colorful textbooks aimed at teaching children the Garhwali dialect in an engaging manner. Through these books, children are getting familiar with prominent Uttarakhandi figures like Gaura Devi, Tilu Rauteli, Sridev Suman, Chandra Singh Garhwali. The purpose of these books is to make children aware of the knowledge, science and culture of the society in which they are living. Taking such decisions is what defines a leader that is sensitive to the people and the society they live in. The work is not easy; effective actions must be discussed and then tactfully implemented.

Now take the BASA program itself. It is an innovative experiment in the tourism sector in Pauri district, which is currently growing in popularity amongst tourists. Basa is a Garhwali word meaning ‘night stay’. It was started as a model in Khirsu, the most famous tourist destination within Pauri. This home stay, designed in a special mountain style at the initiative of the DM was designed in a very short timeframe and has become a center of attraction. Its specialty is that its model matches the basic concept of the state.

According to the DM, Basa is a tourism-based economy model in which the government prepares a home stay for guests instead of giving subsidy or loans for hotel-style living. It is operating on the basis of collective participation. Basa has been prepared under the scheme of eco-tourism and assigned to a self-help group of local women. For this, the group has also been trained in the functioning of a home stay and in cooking local dishes. A local product sales center of artifacts and artisanal goods has also been opened in lieu with the Basa program.

The foundation of the Basa initiative is that the surrounding areas are connected in one way or another to the economic activities of the home stay. The DM believes that a holistic home-stay development model like Basa will not only increase the likelihood of tourism, but activities like farming, horticulture and animal husbandry will also be promoted. Demand for local products will increase and so will the employment.

Basa is considered a successful project in its initial phase. This is why ‘Basa-2’ is being prepared in Khirsu itself. The success of Basa lies in the experience of Dhiraaj Garbyal who, while as the Managing Director of Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam, made innovative experiments and designed home stays in Vyas and Darma Valley along the same lines.

Home stays prepared in villages falling on the Kailash Yatra route are also reporting success. Preparations are being made for the Home Stay Festival in the year 2021. There is no doubt that projects like Basa have the immense potential to transform the lives of those living in remote areas in the mountains. Bureaucracy has a big role to play in any plan or project, and can prove to be fruitful if the leadership inspires confidence and patience in its people.

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(Basa Homestays in Pauri, Uttarakhand. Pic credits: Yogesh Bhatt)

The state is full of bureaucrats, but very few have garnered popularity like Dhiraaj Garbyal. It is said that a good collector is one who can gauge the pulse of his district. Many collectors have come and gone in the past years, but none of them sympathized with the plight of Kandolia Park. He has not only prepared a plan for the rejuvenation of Kandolia but also began implementing it. Those who are familiar with the ins and outs of Pauri know that Kandolia Park had been a victim of environmental negligence for years. The DM hopes to revive the Park and has put plans in motion that will develop the road from Kandolia to Circuit House as Mall Road.

The role of a bureaucrat is important in the promotion of any state and in building its image with the government and that is the reason why governments trust them. Dhiraaj Garbyal is the same officer whose book ‘Throne of the God’ was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the efforts of the Uttarakhand Chief Minister. In the book, he has described the beautiful valleys bordering Nepal and Tibet. Additionally, he helped organize a project for the youth with the Hanifl Centre. There will be very few people in the state who know about ‘Hanifl’, a secluded environmental hub tucked away in the Landour area of Mussoorie. For the first time, a collector got the youth of his district to visit this institute with the intention of conducting outdoor leadership courses. Hanifl is an institute that provides world-class training to those working in the field of outdoor tourism and nature based business. The DM go the progressive youth of his district trained via this institute. Not only this, but he also brought back Pauri’s local Rifle Club which had been closed for five years.

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(Throne of Gods book by Dhiraaj Garbyal being launched by PM Narendra Modi and Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat. Pic credits: Yogesh Bhatt)

Not too long back, in one of the remote villages of Pauri, an attack by wild bear was reported on a woman who was working in the fields. The information reached the DM who immediately arranged for a helicopter ambulance that flew the injured woman to AIIMS in Rishikesh. When a foreign tourist was injured in a road accident in Khirsu, the administration was on their toes, and the injured tourist was airlifted to receive instant medical attention.

The truth is that the public expects their public servants to be sensitive to their needs, and unfortunately most public servants fail to grasp this basic concept. Generally, collectors are either puppets in the hands of a politician, corporate entity or mafia; such collectors are neither able to fulfill the aspirations of public nor of the system. They come and go like the seasons. The public neither knows them nor wants to remember them, but some officers work honestly and with dedication, knowing that their legacy will speak for itself.

Although the public perception of the bureaucratic leadership in Uttarakhand stands largely tainted, Dhiraaj Garbyal is slowly but surely becoming the face of bureaucracy that is deeply tied to the soul of ‘Devbhumi’. He has proved that if a collector is socially aware, cognizant of his people’s history and energetic with progressive and positive thinking, he not only does justice to his role, but also introduces a new precedent, blazing the path for future bureaucracies that intend to do what is needed for their district.

(Author is a senior journalist based in Uttarakhand)

The article originally appeared on the author’s Facebook post in Hindi. Translated by Madhav, Content Writer, SDC Foundation.