IAS officers’ exposure trip

Published on April 11, 2013

By Lunminthang Haokip

A Departure for Colombo: All the 34 officer-participants of the 113th Induction Training Programme (ITP) for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, including this author, who had received board-room training at Indira Bhavan, LBSNAA, Mussoorie from March 25, 2013, met at the Indira Gandhi International airport, New Delhi, for departure to Colombo en route to Chennai airport. The Srilanka–bound officer trainees (OTs) hailing from 12 states of India led by Prem Singh, Deputy Director (Sr) & Associate Course Coordinator and Shri Abhishek Swami, Professor & Associate Course Coordinator, both of LBSNAA, Mussoorie, were on their way to have an eight-day long foreign exposure-cum-study tour in Sri Lanka as part of their eight-week training. Shri Murali Dhar Dubey, Spl. Secretary from Utter Pradesh was appointed as the peer-leader of the trip.

Arrival at Colombo: The Jet Airways 9W 835 flight that departed from New Delhi at 14: 45 hours arrived at Chennai at 1725 hours. After an hour and 35-minute halt at Chennai international terminal, the team departed for Colombo at 19:00 hours. Before one could grab shut eyes in the one hour flight, arrival at LK Bandaranayike International airport was announced at 20:20 hours Indian standard time. There, having collected our respective luggage, we, the visiting OTs were asked to exchange the dollars and Indian rupees we carried with us at the airport money-exchange counters. The rate of exchange varied from INR 100: SLR 200 to INR 100: SLR 220 from place to place in the country of call. Communication being a vital part of any tour, the OTs patiently lined up in long queue to get new sim-cards.

Hotel Stay: An hour’s bus-drive from Colombo airport took us to Taj Samudra Hotel which was ideally located at the western coast Galle face of Colombo that appeared to be the capital city’s answer to Mumbai’s marine drive. Agreed that pulling and lifting heavy travel bags from conveyor belt to bus and from bus to hotel lobby was not easy for 50 plus comfort-habituated state-level Indian officers-on-tour, it was commendable that all concerned OTs re-tyred themselves to exhibit with some effort to their peers that they still had energy to spare to take care of themselves in doing things of transit they would rather let their assistants do back home. Moreover, the warm Sri Lankan hospitality shown in effusive measures by well-groomed uniformed staff of very Indian looks at Tata Group-run Taj Samudra hotel made us all forget our fatigue and  feel that we were not really away from home.

Joy-ride to Kandy: In the morning of March 24, 2013, sumptuous continental breakfast was served to us in our hotel of stay at 7 am. Relishing the gourmet food items was all the more tasty after a 20-minute work-out at the hotel-gym beside the swimming pool. At 8 am, a luxury Ashok Leyland high-floor bus took us to Kandy town which was 120 kilometres away from Colombo. On the way we stopped at an elephant orphanage for more than an hour. Talk on orphaned elephants and their nurturing, making paper out of elephant waste and window-shopping around stalls of products made of animal-skin were the highlights of the stoppage. A while later, we reached Kandy, a beautiful hill town by a picturesque lake. There, some shopped and others visited a temple before we had a consummate lunch at a roadside restaurant. On our way back to Colombo, we were taken to the breath-taking pristine greens of Peradeniya Botanical garden. The smooth road and the good food made many of us doze off on our way back.

Down to Business at SLIDA: On March 25, we had Registration and Course Inauguration at Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA) situated at 28/10, Malalasekara Mawatha, Colombo-07. Prem Singh spoke on behalf of LBSNAA, Mussoorie and participants of 113th ITP for IAS officers. The Director of SLIDA, Mr. B. Wijayaratne, inaugurated the course and gave a brief introduction on SLIDA which was followed by a lecture on the three-tier administrative structure of Sri Lanka. I.H.K. Mahanama, Additional Director, SLIDA joined in the interactive session and guided us throughout the foreign visit stint. Issues on the central , provincial and district administrative structures of Sri Lanka were discussed. Post-lunch, Sepali Sudasinghe, consultant/SLIDA lectured on social development policy in her country.

Meeting with the High Commissioner of India in Srilanka: On the same day, in the afternoon, we were welcomed by Shri Ashok Kantha, High Commissioner, High Commission of India, Colombo. We were apprised about the projects India had taken up in Srilanka for which we are the largest trading partner. We learnt that Ashok Leyland, Maruti India and Tata Motors have a strong presence in the motor vehicle sector of Sri Lanka. Besides RITES, Gurgaon, India had been working on a railway project in the island country. The High Commissioner also reminded us that as close neighbours with 2,500 years of cultural, trade, religious and social relationship, temporary political upheavals will not affect the mutual respect and concern India and Sri Lanka share.

Visit to Local Government Authority:  The place of visit on March 26, 2013 was Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). An imposing huge white building housed the CMC. The British-built mansion was a replication of the Presidential White House of USA, we were told. Sincere and dedicated functionaries of CMC, under the leadership of honourable mayor who is ably supported by a deputy mayor, 16 standing committees, a CEO-type municipal commissioner, 5 deputy municipal commissioners and 15 departmental heads, manage the affairs of Colombo’s 555,031 population settled in the  model green city’s 37 sq Km area divided into 6 districts which are visited daily by 400,000 strong floating population. The CMC is committed to:

  • Utilization of leading-edge environmental technologies, social networks and economic development through innovative approaches to deal with social and political challenges.
  • The mission of CMC is to protect and promote the physical and mental well-being of the quality of life of the city-dwellers and physical environment of Colombo city innovatively utilizing appropriate state-of-the-art technology in all areas of development.
  • To ensure efficient and effective delivery of services which are responsive to community needs.
  • To promote the principles of access, equity and social justice in the development and delivery CMC’s services.
  • To promote the principle of ecological sustainability in planning and implementation of CMC’s environmental goals.
  • To achieve and sustain an organizational culture which encourages innovation and flexibility and which strives for continual improvement.
  • And to encourage community participation in the process of progress of CMC.

Instruments of Good Governance: We, the visiting OTs from LBSNAA, were impressed with capital ‘I’ with the amazingly good governance we were exposed to in our progressive discovery of Sri Lanka. To our pleasant surprise, our benign neighbours too looked at our sustained democratic electoral system and the brilliance of our Institutions with awe. Interacting with CMC functionaries, we came to know that the ULB use 3 legal instruments of governance to perform as they do. They are: 1. Municipal Council Ordinance 2. Urban Council Ordinance and 3. Pradeshiya Sabhas Act. CMC’s aims are simple and basic; they are:

  • To attain safe, healthy and wealthy life.
  • To achieve excellence in providing citizen-centred services to the public/customers by optimizing the use of available resources through a competent, motivated and dedicated team.
  • To ensure that the most basic services for citizens are provided by local government institutions.
  • To strengthen existing capacities while increasing revenue and improved delivery services.

More Good Practices:The island nation has 335 local authorities, 23 municipal councils, 41 urban councils and 271 pradeshiya sabas. CMC is the biggest ULB. The works CMC takes up are categorised under different sections namely, general administration, health services, physical infrastructure and environmental services, water works, fire services, welfare and recreation and road infrastructure. Public participation in decision making process is another feather in CMC’s cap. For the high income group, the Council has city-watch committees as advisory committees. For the middle income level, it has Rate Payer’s Association. And for the low income group, it has Community Development Councils, Leaders of Housing & Community Development Committees and Leaders of Small Trading Associations. Ventilation of public grievances is religiously taken care of by key officers on a day exclusively kept for the purpose called “Public Day” in both the central and provincial offices.

Colombo Port: IHK Mahanama, the programme coordinator, spared no efforts to showcase the major establishments of the Sri Lankan capital to the visiting dignitaries. We were guided to Colombo port in the afternoon of March 26, 2013. A natural harbour-turned artificial harbour, and endowed with deep waters to draw heavy cargo ships right up to the fringe of its bank, Colombo port serves international marine traffic as an indispensable East to West midway port of call. Having begun well to launch out in the deep seas almost at the same time with Singapore, the port could not flourish as much as Singapore as decades of internal disturbance took its own toll.

After being briefed on the technical aspects and trading economics of the port, we were taken on a whirlwind tour to have a close glance at facades of the ever expanding harbour. Watching the sea and the departing cargo ships from the control tower was an experience that lingered on for days. The touring officers had a field day clicking their cell phones and still cameras at the blue sea from the vantage point of the control tower. As big-brotherly neighbours, we were even allowed to ride across prohibited enclosures manned by gun-wielding coastal guards and also to drive-ways where stretch of land ends and the sea waves ripple away. The boulder-barricaded sea-shores reminded one of the Tsunami effect.

Visit to Galle District: March 27, 2013 happened to be a public day for Gall district. The Chinese-built 120 kilometre coastal highway from Colombo to Galle barely took a couple of hours to reach. The under-ways and over-bridges built across the world-class highway were reminiscent of our own greater Noida – Agra Yamuna expressway. The only difference was that they did not have a Jaypee Group-type of dream-merchants who would have constructed high-rise buildings, green parks and a thrill station called F-1 race stadium on the way.

On arrival at Galle district secretariat, we were lectured on the provincial and district administrative structures of Galle. Later in the afternoon, our luxury bus halted at the old Portuguese colony of the port town which was declared  “World Heritage City” by UNESCO. An hour’s stroll around the lanes and sites of the heritage township gave us a feel of medieval European architecture and period fads and fancies. A comfortable stay in a heritage sea-side resort was a rejuvenation of sorts. The next day (March 28) visit to a secondary school and a civil hospital of Galle made us all agree that the zeal for learning as well as the desire to live long is the same everywhere.

Back to Colombo and ICT Agency: March 29 was the last day of our Sri Lankan study tour. An interactive session was arranged at ICT (Information and Communication Technology) agency. “Lanka Gate” was opened to us. Lanka Gate is a term used for a single-window multi-channel access to any e-service wherein 130 information and transactional services are being offered by the government. Established in 2003, and fully owned by the government, ICT had created an environment for development of the island nation. It also built up human resource capacity, developed industries and empowered the Lankan society. ICT also accounted for achievement of 92 percent literacy rate for the country. Thanks to it, phrases like “E-population Registry” and “Pay as you use” (electricity and water) became the buzzwords.

Conclusion: The medical officer of Colombo Municipal Council touted that CMC cares for any Colombo citizen from “Womb to Tomb.” This author was tempted to shoot back a query: “An unborn baby being formed in the mother’s womb is a ‘human being’ already. We appreciate the health care measures taken by the administration to mothers-to-be. But tomb is a place where ‘human-beens’ are buried for keeps. Of what concern is a tomb to CMC?” The CMC functionary patiently explained for our benefit as to how a deceased person’s tomb and the burial grounds of the Sri Lankan capital are well-maintained with precautionary measures to see to it that no health hazards come out of such places. Yes, ‘womb to tomb caring’ is an exotic message we can only forget to carry home at our own peril.

 The writer, an IAS officer from Manipur state, is a regular Kukiforum contributor.

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