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“Are You Kidding Me?“ Surprises on my Return Visit to Gujarat After Six Years

Ke Fang's picture



A few weeks ago, I travelled to Gujarat to attend the project launch workshop for the second Gujarat State Highway Project (GSHP-II). It is a return visit to Gujarat after my last visit in 2008. I was the task team leader for the first Gujarat State Highway Project (GSHP) during 2005-2008, so I knew the state quite well and I expected to see a lot of changes during this new visit. But when I got there, I was still surprised.

Our team first went on a site visit first. We passed one road section which was improved in 2006 under the GSHP. The road will looked new.  My colleague Arnab Bandyopadhyay, who is the Project Leader for GSHP-II, asked the engineers from the Roads and Buildings Department (R&BD) whether they have rehabilitated the road recently. The answer was no. “You must be kidding,” I said to them. “How can an 8-year old road still look so new?”  But they were very firm. “No. We have not done any new works on those GSHP roads since they were constructed.”

On the second day, while we were standing outside the R&BD office in Gandhinagar (the center of the state administration), I saw a large 4-story building right in front of the R&BD office building. “Oh, yes, this and another one behind are new buildings,” the chief engineer of R&BD responded to my inquiry, “and actually they were completed within 8 months.” “Only 8 months?” I cannot believe what he said, “Are you kidding me? It cannot be done so fast in India.”  But he was very firm. He counted his fingers, saying “yes, from awarding the contract to move-in, 8 months in total.”

The next day morning, we had a project review meeting with each contractor. One common question we asked to every contractor was how long it took for them to get payments after they submitted invoices. “About four days” the first contractor answered. “Are you kidding me?” I said to them. “No, sir.” the contractor replied, after checking with his engineers and his accountant. One by one, all eight contractors said the same thing: 3 or 4 days. “This was really super!” I said to myself. Delay in contractor’s payments was a big problem in India before. Sometimes it took weeks or even months for the contractors to receive their payments.

Our last day in Gujarat was the project launch workshop. After a beautiful traditional lighting ceremony and speeches by R&BD minister, R&BD secretary, and other leaders, a training workshop was provided by World Bank experts on various topics related to the project.  Participants include R&BD engineers, contractors, consultants, and NGO representatives. It is a classic World Bank training workshop, but there was still something that surprised me. I remembered that in the past, at this kind of occasions when senior officials were present, R&BD engineers normally kept quiet, and they would not stand up and speak out without being called by those officials. This time, however, many R&BD engineers (including junior engineers) raised their hands to question or comment. There were thus very good interactions between Bank experts and audience.  From their questions and comments and from their confidence in speaking, I could feel the quality of R&BD engineers has improved enormously, particularly compared to 9 years ago when I first visited Gujarat.

By the end of the workshop, I started to realize that the R&BD has been significantly transformed from a traditional public works department, which executed government funded projects in a very slow and poor quality manner, to a new type of government agency that can effectively and efficiently plan, deliver and manage high quality road infrastructure and services. (See details in a World Bank publication, Institutional Development and Good Governance in the Highway Sector – Learning from Gujarat).

On my way back to Delhi, I was told by my colleagues that similar transformations have been taking place in some other Indian states in recent years.  “You may feel you are kidded again when you visit other states,” my colleagues joked to me.

Comments

Submitted by Paresh Vakharia on

May I convey thanks on behalf of all the RBD engineers for such encouraging words? We, RBD engineers believe that we do our duties and in performing our duties we have no constrains and always recieve support and guidance from higher ups including all administrative enclaves. I will pass on your moral boosting article to all our engineers and I am sure hiccups, which are never absent in any system, would also tend to reduce further.
Once again thanks on my behalf and today I am also being director, staff training college, from the gujarat engineering fraternity.

Submitted by Chintan Mehta on

Glad to see your comments. Things which you noticed have been observed in many other departments in recent few years

Submitted by G Shah on

I am so glad that you saw the development. Why don't you also move out from the capital and see the development all around the state. In places like piplaj, citizen nagar or juhapura where lesser citizens survive on mountains of garbage without any access to this development. Perhaps these places and people do not exist in the minds of the so proactive planners or is it deliberate.
Hopefully this development will reach them too, someday. Perhaps.

Submitted by Ke Fang on
You are correct, there are areas in the state that are still less developed. That is exactly the reason why we are still working with the government on new projects. The GSHP and GSHP II cover roads in different areas of the state, no any road in the capital.

Submitted by G Shah on

Dear Dr Feng, the areas I mentioned are muslim areas where the survivors of previous state violence have converged; and I was referring to the state policy of discrimination against muslims. Calling these places as ghettos would be a huge understatement. The state deliberately (and successfully) shows these shiny Gandhinagar roads to browbeat the criticism of its discriminatory behaviour.

Please take out some time to go through this

Viewing
http://www.youthconnectmag.com/2014/02/16/piplaj-citizen-nagar/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/41194288@N08/sets/72157621968371622/

Reading
http://counterview.org/2013/09/02/results-of-janvikas-survey-of-socio-economic-infrastructure-in-muslim-concentrated-areas-tell-a-story-of-continuing-neglect/
http://counterview.org/2014/01/13/most-muslim-areas-of-gujarat-lack-basic-infrastructure-facilities-whether-water-sanitation-health-or-education/
http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-muslims-are-gujarat-s-new-outcastes-survey-1657290

Submitted by Shekhar on

Have you visited Muslim dominated areas in Mumbai and surrounding areas..Mumbra, Kurla, Dhongri etc? They are significantly filthy compared to surrounding areas? Would you blame Congress-led govt for discriminating against Muslims in Maharashtra too?

Submitted by Yusuf Khan on

Myself is involved in both Part of Phase I & IB - GSHP 3A & GSHP 10 as Quality & Materials Engineer from Contracting firm from 2001 to 2008 . Also discharge a duties as Senior Bridge Engineer , Environment Engineer & Additional Project Manager . It's treasured time of my carrier . We are given a full fledged atmosphere , freedom & all support of technical know how to develop & construct best possible engineering product by R& B Engineers , Supervision Consultant . They are best , sincere , honest & technical sound a lot of Engineers I ever seen my professional carrier . I do agree that our invoice payment we received within 2-4 days after raising IPC ( Interim Payment Certificate ) . The road we construct are still in best riding quality state & no overlay done on it - kindly visit Morvi -Tankara -Rajkot SH 25 . always Feel proud & prevelage to work with such a fabulous gentlemen & engineers .

Submitted by suman on

Believe or not, but Gujarat did see changes lot during last 12 years then before, one notable things is education, you do have possibility to have it, if you wishes so. we cannot forced someone if he/she did not want to study.
we have electricity, water and better road now. he did promote English and IT in Gujarat.

Submitted by pm gohil on

the dedicated work dilivered by one n all in the gov. machinary n honestyvision implimentation by politicians can make even better.

Submitted by frenchie on

I am now not sure the place you're getting your information, however good topic.

I must spend some time finding out much more or working out
more. Thank you for wonderful information I used to be searching for this information for
my mission.

Submitted by Ke Fang on
I must confess that I only visited very few places during this return visit. What I expressed in my blog was purely based on that limited visit, compared against what I had seen many years ago. I will visit more roads financed under GSHP and GSHP II during my next trips to Gujarat. Pls let me know any particular place you think I must go to visit.

Submitted by Akshat Chaturvedi on

Simplicity and hardwork was such a Gujarati official thing, I always knew it during the early days of my career when I worked for the Government of Gujarat. Sitting here in the IFC HQ at Washington DC and reading this blog makes me feel really proud of my former colleagues. Life is not easy for these hardworking and often least rewarded people. My heart goes for these tirelessly-working-seldom- holidaystaking-Karmyogis. Thanks for writing this wonderful blog.

Submitted by Yuanyuan on

Seems like the R&BD has learned how to "fishing" by being given the "fish" from the bank,which is so valuable.

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