Forty days back, Podeti Ashok added an item to his office room at the Electricity department (Northern Power Distribution company) in Telangana’s Karimnagar district. A broad in bright red colour that read `I am Uncorrupted’ in both Telugu and English. Despite pressures from colleagues and superiors, this 37-year-old Assistant Divisional Engineer has not taken down the board.
T S Sudhir of Filter Kaapi spoke to Ashok in Karimnagar.
Sudhir : Whose idea was it to put up this kind of a rather unconventional board?
Ashok : It was my idea.
Sudhir : Was it to show to the world that you are superior to the others in this office, that has some 70-odd employees?
Ashok : The intention was not to blame anyone. I wanted to say I am not corrupt because corruption in this office or any other government department is a 100 per cent fact.
Sudhir : But when you put up this board and others do not, it automatically makes you stand out. It is like you pointing an invisible finger at the others, saying I am different from the rest.
Ashok : It was not a decision taken overnight. I have been in this department for 14 years now and in this post, where I deal with issues related to industrial consumers including sanctioning connections, since June. I have been offered a bribe. It is in fact, an accepted practise in this office to accept bribes. In fact, there are percentages and amounts fixed for each post – an Assistant Engineer will get this much, a Divisional Engineer will get this much.
Sudhir : That is a very damning statement you make, not that one is not aware of it. So what happened after you put up this board.
Ashok : For 3-5 days after I put up the board, no colleague interacted with me. They are not happy about it. My bosses have not said anything directly to me but have told the local media that I should take it down since it is an embarrassment to others. I will not remove the board. What can happen at best? I will get transferred.
Sudhir : Has this board made any different to the work that you do?
Ashok : A few days after I had put up the board, an industrial consumer came to me, frustrated because his work had not been done with many others in the office demanding a bribe to get the work done. He had tears in his eyes after I got his work done. I believe he approached me confident that I will solve his problem, without him having to pay anything under the table for it.
Sudhir : In the first week of November, a tahsildar Vijaya Reddy was set ablaze by a complainant in Telangana. That has created a scare among government officials. As it is there are lots of complaints of corruption against officials, especially in the Revenue department. Do you see a sense of fear now?
Ashok : I do not know the details of that case but it was obvious that the complainant had suffered because of his work not getting done. Yes, irregularities are rampant in the Revenue department. I believe officers have to take the lead in changing this system. It is a continuous process. I am saying I am not corrupt, I do not take bribes. Why should it be difficult for every honest officer to say the same?
Sudhir : What has been the reaction from your family members? Do they support your move?
Ashok : Yes, they support. My wife is a doctor in a government hospital. My father retired as a government school headmaster. My brother is a professor in a college.
Sudhir : Has any politician reacted to this board?
Ashok : No, no politician has reacted.