Why I Have Banned VIP Car Rules In Week 1 At Work

Published: June 07, 2016 14:17 IST
My first week as Lt Governor of Puducherry has been a confirmation of what I continued to believe in - the enormous power offered by a position in government to serve and deliver. Even more when public servants are enabled, not obstructed.

As I accepted with gratitude to the Honourable President of India and the Honourable Prime Minister the opportunity to serve the nation at a larger scale, I started to prepare. To make a head start, I sought briefings on Puducherry while preparing to leave Delhi. Even my two hours' drive from Chennai to Puducherry was used to learn from Chief Secretary Manoj Parida. I did not want to waste a single day because I knew the significance of the trust reposed and the responsibility given. 

I had seen the potential of this position when posted as Special Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi in 1998. How I had then, with the support of then Lt Governor Tejendra Khanna, opened up the Raj Bhawan to a common citizen for grievance redressal. I was grateful he allowed me to create a whole set-up for a round-the-clock response centre as none of that sort existed in the capital of India where millions are living. He is a very sensitive man. 

I recall all that the ordinary citizen expected from the position of Lt Governor of Delhi. I did not forget.

Further, all these years of experience of watching certain happenings and clearly seeing agonising incidents, had shown me that much was clearly preventable had the persons in right places delivered. It instantly came back to me.

For instance, the Nirbhaya case (Delhi Gang Rape of December 2012) was clearly preventable. I used to say so in various TV panel discussions. I felt very disturbed as a simple citizen. But on May 29 last month, when I took the oath of being a Lt Governor, I felt within as a very enabling citizen - one who could do what she needed to do and see done. 

I am always aware that nothing is permanent. No position is permanent. What matters is what you do with what you have. And the intention with which all is done. 

I took oath on May 29, a Sunday. I chose this day for it was my Mother's Day. On this day, she let herself go from the confines of her physical body. But she continued to bless us in spirit. For my mother, work was worship. I saw this all the time as she fulfilled her responsibilities. I chose to bring in her spirit of "work is worship" in the new responsibility I was assuming, knowing fully well it's huge potential to serve and as a homage to her. I told my office that after the oath ceremony I shall address the audience. I was told that it was not the practice. I said I need to tell the people why I was taking the oath on a Sunday. Because for me, work will be worship, the way it was for my mother. And that I shall remain trustworthy, empower people and remain accountable. The mantra of TEA...(Trust, Empower, Accountable) was spelt out in my inaugural communication. 

One of the first things I did was to convene an all-Secretaries meeting along with their Directors to get to know them and also to let them know what I was likely to say after the oath as it ought not to come as a surprise. It was that I was there to trust them, empower them and remain accountable. I shall lead it all by example in word and deed. 

I gave them all a sheet of paper to record their SWOT - their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. I found amazing realities. I knew now where would I need to begin from...(those papers are in my personal safe-keeping).

Former IPS officer Kiran Bedi being sworn-in as the 23rd Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry

Thereafter, within two days, we held a quick Town Hall with people of the city of Puducherry to get a sense of them as well. We gave them a set of questions to answer what, according to them, were the real issues. We made the key issues public there and then. It was a surprise for all. The analysis for priorities was clear. The road ahead was visible. 

The Chief Secretary said to the waiting media, "We shall work in 5th Gear". We were on a take off-journey. We opened up the Raj Nivas, as well as the offices of all Public Servants with an open hour where anyone with a grievance could go without an appointment and be heard. 

I am informed many a common person, even senior public officers do not recall having seen Raj Nivas from the other side of the big gates, when, in fact, it's people's property. Many coming in were common citizens with issues that were small for public servants, but big for those who wanted their matter resolved. All who came were seated and served water and tea. Systems have been evolved and it's taken off already. 

We then spent our next Sunday with Safai Karamcharis, or sanitation workmen and women. We used the World Environment Day for this practice. This empowered and gave a sense of importance and value for work of sanitation. Since the challenge is huge, it has been decided to be with workers every Saturday and Sunday...6 am. We are planning many welfare measures for them with the objective to let them know how much we care for their work. They are doing what will enable us an environment of health. 

But what has got wide exposure of one of the several measures we have taken in the last week is the stopping of blaring of sirens by VIP cars. This came about the very first day of my being driven around the streets of Puducherry. 

Sitting in the car, with blaring sirens, even though I saw people greeting me, I felt suffocated and isolated. As same cheering people were pushed and held back, I felt distant. I felt apologetic and ashamed when I drove past several waiting for me to pass. I took away people's time. I was intruding in their space, which I had no business to. I also felt I polluted the environment by disturbing the prevailing serenity. 

I told my Pilot and the ADC to stop this practice. I told them "silence yourself and drive like an ordinary commuter". I set myself free from the containment. 

I then told the DGP to strengthen traffic regulation systems in such a way that it benefits all, and not a handful. All VIPs in a hurry will learn to go through normal traffic regulation, only then will they realise what is wrong and what must be done to improve the situation for themselves and for those whey have been appointed to serve. It has worked. The new Chief Minister, Mr V Narayanasamy, has already respected it by saying, "he will drive in his personal car".

The common Puducherrian has responded with respite. He has got his space back. And my position has made it possible. I have given back to people what belonged to them, here. Sirens are for emergency vehicles. If there is an emergency to be shown, it must be in providing service to people, being accessible to them, remain trustworthy, and ensuring full integrity. Not by blowing sirens. But inner serenity for service to the people. 

This is my Week One as Lt Governor of Puducherry. As a person who is watching what the person in Lt Governors' responsibility does, I am watching my own self. For at the end of the day, that is who I am: a simple grateful Indian.

Kiran Bedi is Lieutenant Governor, Puducherry. She is the first woman to have joined officer ranks of Indian Police Service. Recipient of Magsaysay Award (1994) for police and prison reforms, she has also worked as a UN police advisor. A tennis champion, she earned a PhD from IIT Delhi and is a Nehru Fellow. She's founded many NGOs and is the author of several books.

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