Lalita Mosahari, a sixty something lady hailing from Daulaghat, a remote village in central Assam’s Karbi Anglong district arrives at the Public Facilitation Center (PFC) of the Deputy Commissioner’s office at this headquarter town Diphu, with her son Dev, boarding a bus early in the morning of March 25 to avail a caste certificate for her son.

The uncertainty of getting the certificate same day kept this tribal mother worried all the way. However, entering into the PFC, she was overwhelmed by assurance of the officials manning the centre that her certificate would be delivered within an hour, after the verification of related data is completed. Lalita comforts herself, for she can now return to her village, located 90 km. off from the hilly town with the certificate and would not be required to come for it again. She actually did board the bus back home happily the same afternoon with the certificate for which she had traveled all the way, something which is still unthinkable in any other districts.

Lalita Mosahari with her son Dev at the public facilitation centre of the deputy commissioner's office in Diphu. Pic: Ratna Talukdar.

The swift response of the officials to her queries made Lalita, who is used to usual lethargic body language of government officials, awe-filled; as their approach this time was completely different from her earlier experiences. In fact, for this illiterate tribal lady, it was quite difficult to visualize the flexibilities of Total Quality Management (TQM) system already in place at the DC office, which now views public’s satisfaction as a measure of the system’s performance.

Like Lalita, other visitors to the office too, may not be aware of the fact that Karbi Anglong has become the first ISO:9001:2000 compliant district in the northeast and the fourth district in the country after Latur, Jalgaon in Maharashtra and Krishna in Andhra Pradesh. But for Dr M Angamuthu, deputy commissioner of the district, it has been quite challenging to guide the administration to be capable of attaining this enviable position.

Karbi Anglong is the biggest district in Assam has so far had only a negative portrayal with years of ethnic unrest, rise in extremists activities, high poverty index, and socio-economic deprivation. This was the first district to experience tribal autonomy in Assam. Constituted under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule on June 23, 1952, the district, however, continued to be marred by the authority’s incompetence, state government’s indifference and rampant corruption at all levels.

A people’s facilitation centre

The ISO:9001:2000 certificate was handed over to Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on March 24 by Rupam Baruah, Head, North East Operations of Det Norske Veritas (DNV)—the certifying organisation acting for Internaitonal Organisation for Standardisation(ISO). The office of the deputy commissioner has successfully established, documented, implemented and maintained a quality management system with its initial steps from May last year and with continuous efforts from all concerned, it was certified on January 25, this year.

"The ISO:9001:2001 is a standard for quality management system which ensures that the organisation practices TQM, involving management responsibility, customer focus, periodical review of all activities, provision of human and technical resources, proper work environment, monitoring, analysis and measurement and attempts at continuous improvement. It also ensures that these are thoroughly documented,” Angamuthu tells India Together at his new look office chamber.

The swift response of the officials to her queries filled Lalita, who is used to usual lethargic body language of government officials, with awe; as their approach this time was completely different from her earlier experiences.

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The ISO defines TQM as a management approach for an organisation, centred on quality, based on the participation of all its members and aiming at long-term success through customer (public) satisfaction and all benefits to all members of the organisation and to society.

The TQM project has been adopted in order to reduce hidden burden of locals of the district who make their visits to the office for obtaining information, submitting applications and expediting them, meeting officials, obtaining copies of public records. These visits entail loss of incomes, uncertainty regarding availability of the relevant official, record or information on the day of visit and discomfort and harassments at the hands of public servants. All of this certainly inconveniences the public and considerably reduce the image of the district administration, says Angamuthu.

Occupying centre-stage the TQM drive is ‘toning up the personnel administration’, fully equipping them to handle the pressures of ‘public grievances’ on a regular day-to-day basis, without having to maintain the growing heaps of files gathering dust. For this, the district administration has identified ‘e-governance’ through an IT enabled user friendly network, connected to all integrated development departments, to speed up responses.

Already ‘Citizen Centric’ services are introduced in the DC office at the district headquarters in Diphu, 270 kilometres from Guwahati. Called the Public Facilitation Centre (PFC), the National Informatics Centre (NIC) helped with this work as part of e-governance project. So far 8,000 computer generated Caste Certificates have been issued through the PFC since its inception. The process has proved to be both cost and time effective as a Caste Certificates is now issued within half an hour (if one submit his or her application furnished with proper documents and pays Rs.20 as processing fee.) Besides, through the PFC, other important certificates are also issued within a given time frame, ranging from 1 day to 15 days to 2 months, depending on the nature of the certificates. These include permanent residence certificate, legal heir certificate, senior citizen certificate, arms licenses, issue of no objection certificate for explosives, etc.

As part of this quality management system, Karbi Anglong is linked to the information super highway and the e-governance is expected to result in improved transparency, speedy information dissemination, higher administrative efficiency and improved public services in sectors including transportation, education, power, health, water, security and the state administration and municipal services, says Angamuthu.

The ambitious DC also says that the days are not far, when people like Lalita Mosahari will be able to avail such services sitting in the Community Information Center (CIC) in her block, as the process of decentralization of the e-governance is likely to gear up to the sub-division and block level in the subsequent phases of the ISO project.

Going beyond implementation of the project at the district headquarters at Diphu, the administration is planning to decentralise the whole system at the sub-division and block levels through CICs, with a view to provide almost all the services at the people’s door step. Due to communication problem and also high public demand, it has been decided that in addition to 11 CICs in the blocks of the district, 10 Internet kiosks will be established in some specific areas in the district depending on the population of that area” he adds.

The PFC now provides 23 different services so far, which include issuing of different certificates, passport, licenses for different purposes, and others. The Rs.30 lakh TQM project involved lot of renovation and repairing work, furnishing, installation of PCs, upgradation of the official website of the district administration, creation of automated employee database, computerization of session court and general branch, installation of two ATM, plantation work and setting up of a herbarium.

A backdrop of local conflict

Development activities by ensuring peoples participation at the initiative of administration is crucial, as the district has remained one of the most backward in the state, despite having unique opportunities of prosperity in terms of human resource developments. Even after over 55 years experience of tribal autonomy, the Assam Human Development Report 2003 identifies Karbi Anglong having “highest number of people in human poverty” in the state.

However, one of the biggest districts of the country with a total geographical area of 10,434 square kilometres, Karbi Anglong had only 37 square kilometres of urban area in 2001. The district has only 0.79 per cent of small scale units of the state. The literacy rate is 58.83 and it ranked 19 in terms of literate districts in the state in 2001.

The poverty index has also been reflected in serious health indices. Till 2002-04, the immunisation coverage of the district was only 59.88 per cent, with only 6.5 per cent full vaccination coverage, according to statistics provided by the district administration. The complete antenatal check up of pregnant mothers is only 27 per cent, while the infant mortality rate is 68 per thousand - much higher than the national average. The maternal mortality rate of the district is 490, according to the officials.

The district witnessed several rounds of movements including the most vigorous mass political movement spearheaded by Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) in 1986, demanding creation of an autonomous state under the article 244(A) of the constitution of India. The movement, culminated in signing of a memorandum of understanding with the government of India with enhanced power, under the Constitution of India (Sixth Schedule) Amended Act, 1995.

Like the earlier experiences of local movements, however, the enhancement of power that time, too became futile and failed to fulfillment of the aspirations of common people. Instead, the entire district witnessed furious fratricidal and ethnic clashes among the people living here. A series of ethnic clashes between Karbis and Kukis in 2003 and between Karbis and Dimasas in 2005, claimed more than 200 lives, and led to displacement of 60,000 people from their original villages.

In 2007 too, insurgent activities took lives of 31 persons, mostly Hindi-speaking, and led to displacement of these people. These displaced people had to take shelter in make-shift relief camps for prolong period in sub-human conditions deprived of all basic amenities.

Apart from these ethnic clashes, however, massive extortion activities of rebel groups have made the district a volatile zone. At least five rebel groups representing different tribes and communities are still operating extortion and killing in the district.

The district demographic profile include eight tribes namely Karbi, Bodo, Dimasa, Tiwa, Kuki, Khasi, Mizo, Hmar, Rengma and eight non-tribal communities with a total population of 8,13,311 (2001 census). Karbis with a total population of 3,30,953 are the majority.

The constant insurgent activities have tremendous negative impact on peace and development process on one hand, and building up of the human resource on the other.

Banking, diary processing and more, with a pro-people tilt

In the backdrop of all these negative development indices, getting ISO: 9001:2000 certificate has gone a long way in building up a new image of the district. However, the district administration has realised that mere TQM at the headquarters was not going make much difference unless it is simultaneously backed by a series of development initiatives aimed at freeing the district from the poverty tag.

M Rahman, Assistant Dairy Development Officer in the KAMUL plant located in Manja block. Pic: Ratna Talukdar.

That is why, perhaps, when Lalita comforts herself with speedy disposal of her official work; sitting at Rongkangthir village 10 km off from the district headquarter, which is a severely conflict-hit Karbi village, Sarik Teron, the village headman too, can foresee promising days, as the village has been adopted by State Bank of India (SBI) as an “ideal village” of the district—another new concept of development formulated by the district administration.

The villagers, along with the headman had to abandon the village in 2005 because of insurgent attack triggered by Dima Halam Daogah (DHD), a rebel group representing Dimasa tribe. Now with the adoption of the village by the SBI, the village people are likely to have better livelihood with electricity, safe drinking water facility, and alternative livelihood schemes.

“Under the ideal village concept, three tribal villages of each of the 11 blocks in the district will be adopted by a bank institution. Apart form providing electricity and safe drinking water, each of these families of such villages will have a bank account and at least one of the family members will be a member of a self-help group. The financial institutions will also guide these tribal people in finding sustainable alternative livelihoods,” the DC says.

The experience of Karbi Anglong Milk Union LTD (KAMUL) in Manja Block, 16 km off from the district headquarters is also seen as another effort by the district administration to supplement its achievement in TQM. A joint venture of district veterinary department, dairy department, district administration and Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council authorities, the Rs.37 lakh state of the art milk processing plant, installed in January 9, this year, produces 500 liters of milk per day involving 150 families, both tribal and non-trial communities. The district administration has facilitated credit linkage to these families to avail loans up to Rs.1,00,000.

Encouraged by overwhelming response from the market, the KAMUL authorities have now fixed a target of 2000 litres within one year involving more families.

“The main objective of the milk plant is to increase the consumption of milk among the tribal people living here, thereby improving their health status. Tribal people living here traditionally do not have the habit of milk consumption and the livestock and poultry they rear are mainly for meat consumption. But consumption of milk is crucial, specially, for the growing children and ailing persons. We have conducted a number of awareness programme for introduction of cattle breeding as well as milk consumption among the tribal people”, the DC adds.

M Rahman, assistant diary development officer, who is in-charge of the plant, says that they have been going ahead with producing milk in the plant, despite constant threat of rebel groups demanding money at gun-point. Only 13 days back, the KAMUL authorities received such an insurgent threat by Kuki Ravolutionary Army (KRA), a rebel group representing Kuki tribe, says Angamuthu.

Another important intervention, through which the district administration has succeeded in making difference to lives of downtrodden ginger growers of the district is the establishment of Ginger Growers Co-operative Market Federation (GINFED), in April 2007, and introduction of G-card, the first commodity based debit-cum-credit card to be issued in India, among its 3,000 shareholders to enable them to avail loans from financial institutions.

Till the formation of the GINFED the ginger growers of the district were at the mercy of the middlemen who often duped them by to forcing them to sell their produce at prices less than the production cost despite the fact that Karbi Anglong produces the best quality ginger which has a very high demand in the international market. The intervention by the GINFED has forced the middlemen to offer higher prices, higher than the procurement price fixed by GINFED, sometime Rs.25 a kg against only Rs.2 or Rs.3 a kg offered by them till 2006. Karbi Anlong produces 30000 MT of ginger every year.

Angamuthu is hopeful that when the TQM is decentralised to sub-division and block levels as part of the ISO project then impact of these simultaneous changes would be felt by the people of this district for all these activities would together make them more empowered than now.