With ‘Project 37’, Arunachal Officers Raise Lakhs to Repair Schools, Build Roads

Repairing government assets, renovating structures or sanctioning little purchases through government protocols can often be a tedious task. However, a group of officers in Arunachal Pradesh have found a new way to ensure the betterment of the lives of school kids (and neglected buildings) does not stop due to red tape – crowdfunding.

The latest example for such work is the long ignored and forgotten former transportation office in Khimiyang of Changlang district, that serves as a school. Its makeover was completed just last week, and today it dazzles with bright pink and yellow walls and is filled with toys and books for children.

“The windows were broken, the ceiling was almost caving in, and the dilapidated walls almost turned the government building into a ruin,” says Todak Riba, Extra Assistant Commissioner of Khimiyang. Todak is an officer from the Arunachal Pradesh Civil Service (APCS).

“The work started and immediately clashed with the Covid-19 lockdown. But a colleague, Prajwal Montri, Medical Officer, Khimiyang PHC, and I decided to get the work done as school classes would resume after that,” Todak said.

With no labour and logistics available, Todak and Prajwal sourced cement and sand to get the building in shape. “After working to our limits, we realised that ceiling was not something that we could fix. Hence, it was only after the lockdown that it was lifted. We procured labourers and finished the work,” he added.

However, success did not come easy. “The school is located 36 km from Changlang, which is the headquarters. It takes 2.5 hours to cover the journey as the roads are bad. We heavily rely on local transport,” said Todak.

WhatsApp Group For Change in Arunachal

Arunachal Officers Raise Lakhs to Repair Schools

The transportation office cost Rs 3 Lakh to repair fully. And where did this money come from? Interestingly, it came from a very special squad of 2016 batch mates of Todak, and their unique crowdfunding project.

This is not the only such effort Todak, and his colleagues have made. In fact, this is almost routine for them, all thanks to a WhatsApp Group.

“It was the brainchild of one of our colleagues, Rome Mele, who planned to start a group for such initiatives named ‘Project 37’,” Todak said. ‘Project 37’ was named for the number of officers who were part of the 2016 batch, from the same cadre.

Rome said the idea came to life in reaction to the shortage of government funds faced by the officers posted in Arunachal.

“The officials from the senior ranks of Deputy Commissioner and Additional Commissioner get annual funds of Rs 50 Lakh and Rs 25 Lakh respectively. However, we, as entry-level officers, have no access to government funds,” Rome explained.

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The officer said they decided as a group that collective good should be attempted nevertheless, and funds should not be a hurdle.

How it Works

Arunachal Officers Raise Lakhs to Repair Schools

“We decided to pool Rs 1,500 a month and auto-debit it from our bank accounts and put it in a fund. The money collected would be used for micro-infrastructure needs in schools – sports equipment, classrooms, teaching aids and road repairs,” Rome told The Better India.

Over two months, the officers would collect over Rs 2 Lakh, which could then be used for any works across Arunachal.

“A lottery gets drawn every two months, and the selected member suggests several proposals to be executed in his or her jurisdiction,” Rome said. The proposal getting the highest number of votes gets executed, and further proposals keep flowing.

“Who would want to attend classes with no fans?”

Speaking about the initiative, Heera Panggeng, circle officer at Sille-Oyan, said, “People voluntarily take up planting trees or cleaning the area. Such initiatives have gained momentum recently, but nobody wants to talk about education and demand better classrooms.”

Heera said that having a good classroom does not become a political issue in Arunachal. “People hardly come to us and ask for school repairs. They mainly want roads and other infrastructure projects. It gets upsetting to realise that education is not getting its due importance,” the officer added.

The officer feels that with better infrastructure, the attendance of students and their will to attend classes would increase. “The students do not need luxury. But who would want to attend classes with no fans, electricity, toilets, drinking water and basic facilities?” Heera said.

Heera said that many government assets are wasted or lost to encroachments or out of order as they do not get maintained and protected. “We need to change the picture to ensure resources do not get drained,” she added.

Arunachal Officers Raise Lakhs to Repair Schools
Transportation hall is coloured with bright colours from outside and inside.

Long Term Effects in Arunachal

Rome feels that the project will have multiple effects in future.

“First the officers from our batch are setting an example for coming batches promoting collective good. We hope our initiative acts as a ripple effect for other officers to take cue for such honest and good work,” Rome said.

“Secondly, at the community level, many people have started approaching us for donations and wanting to contribute by their means. The public funds and donations will add to our contributions for better work,” he added.

Moreover, the officer said that people from the concerned department could be held accountable and would push the agencies to do their job. “If they realise that officers are pitching in to fill their shortcomings, they will make some effort to perform their duties honestly,” Rome said.

Rome said that a website is already floated for people to contribute across India, and they plan a series of infrastructure repairs in Arunachal.

“There is already a proposal to repair a girls hostel and to buy computers for children. Other initiatives like the rainwater harvesting, building toilets, internet and even having a playground can get built with the available funds,” he added.

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

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