When I took over as District Development Commissioner Srinagar earlier this year I knew completion of Jehangir Chowk-Rambagh flyover was going to be amongst our main concerns. But we hadn’t imagined it would become such a focus of attention keeping us awake many nights.
It became so in unusual circumstances amidst tense moments filled with fears and rumours of possible war that followed Indian air strikes across the border into Pakistan’s Balakote region — when jokes about the flyover on social media including this very clever one invoking the endless toil that had gone into constructing it and appealing to Pakistan not to target it left their mark on us hitting us with curiosities about reasons hampering its progress and a deep sense of desire to find answers that will see it through.
There was a lot going on at the time with snowfall that had been the heaviest in recent years throwing life out of gear. Persistent and long closures of Jammu-Srinagar highway including that massive last one only days ago that lasted about two weeks grew into serious concerns surrounding stocks of essential supplies that had been fast depleting in the district. This, among other associated concerns became a centre of attention for administration devising plans and strategies through sleepless nights about judicious and equitable use of remaining stocks and their refilling.
My curiosities about and interest in the flyover obviously took a back seat on the bus of priorities but it popped right back up to the front once the situation had normalised affording us to focus on some of the host of normal worries and issues affecting this otherwise beautiful and full-of-potential capital district of Srinagar.
My good friend and batchmate Dr Raghav Langer — who had assumed charge as CEO JKERA after joining our State on deputation from Uttarakhand — and I sat down soon afterwards and got down to business at once promising each other to make all efforts and offer all assistance required to see this project through at the soonest possible.
Hosts of discussions about impeding issues and a SWOT analysis of concerned agencies and their approach and efforts followed. Then, a team started building — all focused on resolving issues and seeing the project through.
During discussions on issues impeding the project it came to fore that two of the contractors were “main culprits” responsible for lingering of the project — that their reluctance and shenanigans held the project hostage leaving the rest of the contractors helpless.
So we devised a plan to deal with them. We called an important meeting of all those associated with the project — with a hidden agenda of getting hold of these errant contractors and having them booked under a stringent law. The idea was to send a message to all those involved in the construction of the project that enough was enough and further lingering of the project was just unacceptable.
But about 20 minutes into the meeting it dawned on me and colleagues in the administration that there was more to it than we were told or had perceived. To the utter surprise of some we betted on the contractor duo and also announced a completion deadline before the end of the meeting.
We were excited and hopeful — and not in the least expecting a barrage of jokes and teases we were targeted with as soon as news about this new ambitious deadline had gone out.
Hosts of challenges were thrown at us as part of the jokes made on our deadline — with some promising to live their remaining parts of life in caves if the project was indeed completed within this new deadline and other challenges ranging from offers of changing names to shaving heads to leaving professions and so on.
It was dispiriting and disappointing and demeaning and depressing — a bit of all of that to be honest.
I knew there were big challenges to tackle — I knew for instance it wasn’t going to be too straightforward to control and regulate some 40 different contractors that were involved in the construction of this project or manage other crucial requirements like deliveries from outside the State on time and sorting a range of internal concerns and issues of those associated with its construction.
But we were determined. Our team had made its mind and drawn its path to destination — which was to complete this project within this new deadline we had promised. I think we also understood that public skepticism about this project and this new deadline had fair reasons.
So we did not just deal with issues and hurdles and each minute requirement that made our goal achievable but also took the abundance of jokes made on our deadline in our stride while standing firm on our commitment.
It started with an online group and then there was no looking back — the more work that was done the more work that was wanted to be done. From the district administration to ERA to Police and Traffic authorities to Planning to Labour to Power among other departments and stakeholders all joined hands with contractors — with that one single goal of facilitating issues-less and unhindered work aimed at completion of the prestigious project within our promised deadline.
It involved a multitude of measures and plans ranging from detaining troublemakers to seizing accounts to controlling machines to summoning people from outside the State — all of which became rather regular affairs throughout this period. It also involved firsthand supervision of work and appraisal of issues at the project site where we made regular visits sometimes late in the evenings and sometimes late in the nights.
The latter often followed late evening meetings — with SSP Traffic Tahir Gilani and SP Headquarters Majid and JD Planning Yaseen Lone and ERA officers and Simplex Infrastructure Limited representatives and concerned contractors — in the office of the Additional Deputy Commissioner Srinagar Kuldeep Krishan Sidha which was a war room and an adobe of possibilities where issues were resolved and requirements arranged for at once.
In midst of all this effort and enthusiasm we were shocked to learn of existence of several kinds of forces that were responsible for the project delay — for plain vested interests. This was unbearable. We were planning a press conference to name them but a mature advice from a colleague at the right time stopped us short. The latter proved golden in the interest of the project and its completion.
It was team work and coordination at its best. No ranks or hierarchies or domains or egos — none of that sort existed. We were like a one single unit aware of our individual and collective tasks and responsibilities and focused at our target. It didn’t matter that it involved going to bed late or going sleepless more often than not. I can’t remember a single night when a call or a message was not responded or requirements were not met — no matter what time.
It was a huge learning experience. It didn’t just involve a host of responsibilities — ranging from tracking trains coming from Bhopal and trucks from Delhi to arranging for technicians bringing them from Mumbai to operate machineries to seeking expert suggestions of agencies based in other states to dealing with concerns of contractors surrounding payments and reimbursements and keeping them all motivated — but also involved dealing with a lot of pressure that came with it and the deadline within which we had promised to complete this project. It was also an opportunity to regain public faith in government competence — which added to the pressure but more than that served as great motivation to deliver.
Sustained efforts and assistance from concerned quarters resulted in more than 60 slabs being completed in just three months in the end — which is unprecedented as far as construction of this project is concerned. Equations suggest that that accounts for completion of the project some 18 months earlier based on previous parameters of work done on this project. I think that is not bad at all and will take that.
I must point out that it could not have been possible without Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam’s support — he exerted pressure in right directions and at time moments and his motivations worked wonders. The credit is also due to Principal Secretary Planning Rohit Kansal for his support and financial backing as and when required and Divisional Commissioner Baseer Ahmed Khan for administrative facilitation that were so crucial for this project.
I liked to hear it when the CS while congratulating me during the June 30 inauguration of the flyover said I would be remembered as the bridge man of J&K but more because it was an endorsement of a long-held belief that team work with collective commitment and honest attempts wins without ever disappointing.
I should point out that the point of this write-up is not to assert a claim or brag about a feat. It is to recognise and appreciate the team work that has made this possible. It is also to underscore the importance of public faith in governance and a humble attempt at regaining it.
While on a visit as a probationer to Rashtrapati Bhawan in 2006 I was a bit nervous being there and sitting across the President APJ Abdul Kalam. I had been holding a microphone for quite some time to ask him a question. The President noticed but did not point to me and just asked if there were questions from his left side where I was sat. He was encouraging me to ask him the question while being careful not to add to my nervousness he could perceive. I mustered the courage and asked the question: how should a difficult situation be tackled when rules do not deliver? The President answering said the idea is to defeat the problem and if that takes violating a rule we must not hesitate to go ahead — adding that a simple note indicating reasons prompting breaking of rule is a reasonable explanation. That has been my principle in every decision in administrative service since. That has been my principle during these last few months working with this project — each step an endeavour to defeat the problem.
Dr. Shahid Iqbal Choudhary (I.A.S) is Deputy Commissioner / District Development Commissioner, Srinagar