It was a wonderful start to the Extra Mural Lecture Series 2016-17: a lecture by none other than Dr. Kiran Bedi, the Honorable Lt. Governor of Puducherry on 8th August. Over the last few weeks, videos, tweets and statuses about her firebrand governance had piqued the interest of the insti junta. This was well evident by the packed Students Activity Centre (SAC) by 5:20pm, a good 20 minutes before the actual start of the lecture.
As is the custom for a lecture by a state dignitary, the lecture began with the national anthem and the honorable guest was welcomed by the Director, Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurthy. Dr. Bedi who seemed to be very engaging, calm and poised, reminisced about her last trip to IIT Madras as part of a lecture organized by Saarang Lectures and Demonstration team in 2014. She recollected her days as an IITian and about her degree in Humanities and Sciences which drew loud cheers from the HS students gathered in the audience.
Achieving transparent governance:
The talk which was titled “Transparency in Governance and Administration”, had two aspects. Starting off by defining transparency as “that which is easy to perceive or detect”, she went on to elaborate on how it could be achieved in governance. The recently appointed Lt. Governor of Puducherry used her seven week term to illustrate how transparency could be achieved in governance. Aligning the stakeholders and ensuring authentic communication between the key parties involved was imperative for this, opined Dr.Bedi. She illustrated her point by the use of various examples, like using Whatsapp groups for improving communication between higher officials, toll free numbers ( like 1031 for reporting crimes) to increase communication between public and public servants, and conducting open house to improve public interaction, which drew loud cheers from the audience. Hitting out at the culture of freebies, she assured that unlike last year, where the government played catch-up with the rain damage by issuing flood relief to the tune of Rs.140 crores, this year preventive measures were being taken to ensure that the monsoon impact was mitigated.
Sustaining Transparent governance:
Moving to the the second half of the lecture, Dr Bedi switched to a reflective tone as she talked about the ways to sustain the transparency in governance.She identified the key players under the abbreviation of 4Ps (Public, Press, Public servants and Political representatives). Underlining the role to be played by students, especially the ones from a premier institute like IIT-M, she pointed out that students are going to be integral in this regard as they would either be a part of the public or become public servants, and hence it is important for the student community to learn gratitude along with engineering. She pointed out that while brilliance and intelligence can only take a student to better academic institutions, it is attitude that makes one join the public services.
This was followed by a highly interactive question and answer session. The students seized the opportunity to hit her with a volley of questions ranging from the recent high court ruling to the sustainability of the schemes that she is currently implementing. When a student questioned her on how education infrastructure would be improved for public schools in Pondicherry, she promptly replied that her focus was going to be on teachers and not the amenities. On the question of having the political parties under the purview of RTI, she didn’t hesitate to take a shot at herself, saying that while personally that was her opinion, she doesn’t fully understand politics which is why she failed in the elections.
While lackadaisical has become the accepted norm in governance, Dr. Bedi’s approach comes like a breath of fresh air. Her approach, which primarily focuses on infrastructure development, has had its own fair share of detractors. But if the response from Pondicherry people could be viewed as a metric for assessment, then it seems that Dr. Bedi is truly on her way to achieving something that has only been seen in the director Shankar’s movies. The EML organizers definitely need to be commended on kickstarting the EML series with such an enthusiastic speaker. We hope to see more of such interesting and engaging lectures from many other eminent personalities in the coming days.