‘So much to do in edu, health, tourism’

Talking Point |Swapnil Tembe

The 32-year-old deputy commissioner of East Garo Hills, one of the less developed districts in the state, is a man of few words. For him, action speaks louder than words and indeed it did. Meet Swapnil Tembe, who came to Meghalaya as sub-divisional officer of Dadenggre, West Garo Hills, in October 2017 and made his presence felt within a year. He donated his two months’ salary to develop a village school and also conducted a crowd-funding campaign.
The young IAS officer from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh has a B.Tech degree from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. He also has a master’s degree in public administration. Asked why this shift, Tembe said, “In those times, we never really gave a thought about what we wanted to become during our schooling years. Belonging to a small place, there was no one to guide also. So I went with the popular choices of giving IIT exam. It was only during my college days that I started thinking about career choices and finally divided to join public service, and hence decided to study public administration while preparing for the IAS exam.”
Tembe was transferred to Williamnagar as deputy commissioner in January this year and he is already working on war footing in areas like education, tourism, employment and social changes. The young official, who blogs under the nome de plume Genie Speaks, wants to set an example and not just state an opinion. “Of course one can’t deny that IAS is the most diverse opportunity of public service which provides you the platform to make the deepest and most widespread impact. In all possible spheres of the development discourse,” ‘Genie’ writes.
Tembe has other interests too besides blogging. He is an avid reader and his favourite is The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. He loves football and running. Recently, Tembe participated in the 10-km Turathon on a Sunday. Later in the afternoon, he was back to work in his spacious residence office in the track suit. In an email interview, Tembe tells The Shillong Times how he is steadily working on developing East Garo Hills and what avenues can be explored for economic growth of the district.

What was your first impression of Meghalaya?
First impressions were very positive and encouraging. Meghalaya is the most beautiful state in the country which offers a great opportunity to work for the developmental discourse. There are so many things where interventions are needed. We often talk of Sustainable Development, Meghalaya offers an opportunity to realise that. There is so much to do in the field of education, health, sports and tourism, and it is fascinating to be part of the journey Meghalaya is making forward.

You have substantially contributed to rural education in West Garo Hills. How are you planning to take it forward in East Garo Hills?
In Dadenggre, West Garo Hills we started initiatives like Project STAR (School Transformation by Augmenting Resources) and Adopt a School, which we have been taking up here as well since January 2019. More than 50 schools have been repaired and renovated, our officials are constantly monitoring schools and several officers have adopted government schools. Here we have just launched Super 30 initiative through which we will take the best students in the district and make them even better so that they can compete at the national level. Here we found out that there is basic issue in understanding multiplications of numbers and therefore we gave away some charts to help out with that. We have been regularly organising career counselling sessions in secondary schools to sensitise the students at the right time of their school tenure.

East Garo Hills was once the epicenter of militancy that has led to its backwardness. What are your immediate focus areas to bring about some change?
I believe education, health and roads are the fundamental domains where we need to intervene. The government is taking several steps to ensure rural connectivity. Better monitoring of educational and health institutions can help in the other two domains. Apart from these we must focus on providing various employment opportunities to the youth and to skill them for self-employment. Tourism is one such sector which is totally untapped in Garo Hills and can prove to be a game changer.

Now that law and order has been restored, do you have any plan to promote tourism on the lines of the state government’s agenda to leverage the sector?
We have spotted several sites — like Tasek Lake, Nengmandalgre Fish Sanctuary, Daribogre and many others — across the district which have great potential to be fantastic tourist locations. We are working on identifying youth as tourist guides, setting up of home stays and provision of basic services with regard to tourism. Once the fundamentals are set, we plan to come up with an information brochure on East Garo Hills tourism. Attempts will also be made to include East Garo Hills in the tourist circuit of Meghalaya. The tourists visiting Shillong and Sohra from Guwahati should also be encouraged to visit Garo Hills by travelling through the scenic route touching Mairang and Nongstoin.

Any initiative for jobless youths…
There are multitudes of skill trainings and placement drives being organised involving several training providers. Recently we completed a three-month-long mason training for the local youth on construction, plumbing etc. Other initiatives under MSSDS (Meghalaya State Skills Development Society) and DDUGKY (Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana, a part of National Rural Livelihood Mission) are ongoing. The challenge they are facing is to ensure the trainees go for placement and stay there as many do not want to move out of the state for employment. This is why we are also trying to promote entrepreneurs by promoting their works and to support them through various schemes. If local business thrives, it will generate more employment for the local youth.

Is there any initiative on recreational arena for youths and beautification of the town?
We are working on the basics first as there are several issues with civic amenities. Street lighting is very crucial as the absence of that poses security concerns. We have managed to construct one public basketball court for the youth and several other such initiatives to provide recreational spots are in the pipeline. Soil Lake inside the city will soon be transformed into a place for recreation.

What challenges do you face working in this part of the country?
Several non-motorable villages, shadow areas with no telecom network, poor banking coverage and illiteracy are the challenges which we are working on and trying to resolve as we move forward.

Any particular rural initiative that you have taken up or planning to take up…
As most of the district is rural, all my initiatives are rural oriented only I would say. We have made one Model Anganwadi Centre in Upper Baiza and one Model PMAY house in Songsak block to motivate others to join the movement. Every Saturday we go on a village visit trying to understand their issues and to coordinate with line departments to resolve these issues. We have rigorously taken up the Jal Shakti Abhiyaan to rural areas wherein the awareness on water conservation was much needed.

Any message from the DC’s desk…
District Administration is taking several initiatives to fast track the development discourse for East Garo Hills and we seek support of people in all these. I encourage the youth to engage themselves in positive works and to volunteer for initiatives being taken by district administration rather than exhausting their prime time in negativity and cynicism. If everyone walks together with the district administration, we will see a much improved East Garo Hills in the years to come.

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