Interview with V K Gandotra. Head, Alankit Assignments limited. Agartala, Tripura
Duration: 00:28:46; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 36.377; Saturation: 0.016; Lightness: 0.630; Volume: 0.225; Cuts per Minute: 0.035; Words per Minute: 121.664
The Identity project emerged as a result of our dissatisfaction at the nature of the debate that was emerging on the area of digital governance in India.
Over the past three years we have conducted numerous field visits in seven Indian states.These visits include numerous video-conversations, some short and others very long, with a diverse number of those who were involved with this entire process of participating in the emergence of a digital ecosystem of governance. These are interviews with people being enrolled into the Aadhaar programme, with district-level Panchayat and other officials, with numerous State government bureaucrats, with private enrollment representatives, representatives of various governmental services, with operators and other members of this digital workforce. Conversations are often long, spontaneous and deliberately unstructured: and the focus is mainly on a vérité style using amateur video.
Some key issues that we shortlisted for detailed inquiry were issues of migrants, both domestic and across international borders, homelessness in cities, and the financially excluded. Each of these areas was discussed in considerable detail at major public consultations held in Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore, in partnership with the CSDS, the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, and the Urban Research and Policy Programme Initiative of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. All videos of all presentations made at these events are also available here.
CSCS also has an extensive text archives of material on the field as a whole, available on http://eprints.cscsarchives.org
Interview with V K Gandotra, Head, Alankit Assignments Pvt. Ltd, the empanelled agency for Aadhaar enrolments in Tripura in December 2011 . In this interview he speaks about the various local specific initiatives that his organization had to do in order to complete 90% enrolments in the state. This inspite of the difficult terrain and the time taken to travel to different places in the state. He speaks about the immese learning this project has given him and his team. In addition, he praises the support that the Registrar, the Tripura Rural Development Department provided to his team. Gandotra details the recruitment process for operators into the agency and states the difficulty in getting talented staff.
Interviewer: I just wanted to understand what your experiences has been in doing this almost 90% enrolment in the state of Tripura and what are the specific challenges you have faced in these enrolments?
Speaker: Actually UIDAI, this product (programme) in Tripura has given us a very big exposure. Our dedication, sincerity, devotion and concern for the cause vis a vis the support from the administration and the local agency, we have been able to achieve roughly 89% average enrolment from our own Tripura.
Speaker: When we took the project, we never knew what the topography of the state is. What will the difficulties be, what will the challenges be? At the end of the day, until now, we have understood that every day is a new challenge. It's a new day in life for us in this project in Tripura. There have been multiple challenges that we have been beating and successfully working against this.
Speaker: There have been a lot of new things for us. For example, regarding the topography of Tripura: Tripura is a very beautiful state but it is unreachable in many parts. It's all hills, ups and downs. So there were some panchayats where we had to go on foot. There were some panchayats where we had to cross tiny rivulets carrying the machines. There are some panchayats which are not reachable, so on the advice of the administration we put up the centre in the foothills.
Speaker: Then there have been some panchayats, where language was an issue because local language (Karbuk) we didn't understand. But fortunately we had employed all local people, operators, supervisors. We had to cope with that to a great extent because I have learned that almost 50-60% of tribal people in remote areas, they can also speak a bit of Bengali.
Speaker: Basically there are two main languages, Bengali and Karbuk. Then in many parts of Tripura, light is very scarce or no light. The biggest.. The first challenge we observed was how to provide electricity? Although as per contract we had to provide generators as back up for electricity failure.
The biggest problem, challenge became for us to provide generators. Because Tripura is always short of having generators and at our centres, to run 5 machines, we require two kilo watt generators. Less than that doesn't work.
In Tripura, mostly generators are used for weddings and all these functions. So what we saw was, when we went to the market there were hardly any two kilowatt generators. Usually 800 watts are available which is enough for a small function. Still we tried to collect a lot of generators and we had almost 47 generators. We managed this within a month or so. Some hired, some purchased but still we couldn't manage the adequate number of generators. Although in some panchayats electricity was there, the load shedding was too much. The main hitch was with the lead shedding with the enrollers waiting in line and our operators were waiting for the electricity to return.
We had these kinds of experiences but most of the time we coped. Inspite of working for 8 hours, we worked over time, almost 12 hours a day so that the loss of work due to load shedding is covered. In many centres, even in AMC - Agartala Municipal Corporation, there's one ward called Dhaneshwar, ward no.60. The ward counsellor appreciated our efforts. We were working there till 12.30 am, having started our enrolment at 9 am.
A few colleagues, the ward counsellors and the other ward officials, they managed their dinner because the operators were constantly working and didn't have the time to go have dinner. Since they had not eaten since the morning, late in the evening the ward counsellor and ward secretary managed their food from someone's house. I think it was specially made, what we call Khichdi or pulav - vegetables cooked in rice. We had been working all the time so, this was a great experience. Somehow we managed, so that city was a very big issue.
Initially we had to train our boys as per the UIDAI guidelines. But subsequently when the software changed, we had to make changes. So training became virtually an everyday part of our lives. Whenever the software versions changes, we had to train our people in that. In that also we had a lot of conflict. We were working at a time in four districts. So at one time we had more than 95 centres working. Some of them in very remote areas. When the software changes, we had to reach them and some of the panchayats, some of the blocks are inconnectible with the net or telecommunication lines are not available.
Most of the mobiles (were) very powerful - Airtel and BSNL. But even these mobile phones don't work in all the centres. So there were communication gaps. We had lots of tough times but somehow we managed the task. So this was the third challenge.
Then next challenge was logistics - shifting the machines from one centre to other centres. Sometimes we don't get vehicles. If we get vehicles, there were times when people told us, because of a lot of extremism, not to move out of the centres or the place of stay after sunset. This being north east India, where the sun rises very early and set early also, we had to waste a lot of time because a centre starts... Suppose today one centre is completed, our effort used to be that without wastage of time, we can shift it the same night.
We couldn't do it because of the security precautions. The next day we bring the vehicles, take the machines to the other centre and then that centre... 1-2 days time wastage was due to these reasons.
There has been N number of challenges. If I had to explain, you could write a small book on it. But we have learnt very much and fortunately for us in administration we have very good people here. They're very co operative. With their support and guidance we managed.
In some panchayats, there have been violent incidents also. Because of the improper crowd management. Now the crowd management was not our duty. It is part of the state administration duty.
In many panchayats, the panchayat secretaries and other workers deputed for the filling of ROR number in the form, they never used to turn up in time. Sometimes they used to some at 11 or 12 whereas the centre used to start work at 8 or 9am. And even on holidays they would not come. SO this wasted a lot of time for us.
In most of the blocks, the people who were given training during the workshops they used to be panchayat secretaries or panchayat pradhans. They wouldn't be there and send other people from lower levels who wouldn’t know how to fill up the forms, what the formalities are that we had to complete, and what exact documents are required. So there were many hiccups like this but ultimately whenever we visited the panchayat, I have personally visited almost all working centres in Tripura. I can't say 100% but not less than90-95 %. We used to check whether they're filling up the form correctly, whether the people are bringing the documents accordingly, and especially in the age group of 0-5 years and 5-18 years they used to commit a lot of mistakes. Taking only the birth certificate, they would force the operators to do it and scare them. They are more in number than our operators. In one incident, one of our operators was beaten in Kumarghat. He was unconscious for three days and he was beaten in the north actually. One panchayat in a remote area. He was admitted in the hospital and on the third day he came to. One operator got hit and he had 12 stitches.
But these are nominal things. Because of improper crowd management, somebody who comes early gets his number late and somebody who comes late, he's healthy and maybe the boss of the area whatever it is... there were many problems like this. Even in the AMC the crown management hadn't been proper except in a couple of wards where the ward counsellors were elected members by the public, they took personal interest. Otherwise it was a very big challenge.
Like this there have been so many experiences but on the whole I'll say whatever we have learned possibly no Indian university can teach like that. One cannot have learning from any educational institute anywhere in the world. It was a practical experience we've gone through.
Interviewer: Was there any other resistance that you faced from the local, especially the tribal community? Apart from he crowd management, is there any other area....
Speaker: You see my experience has been very good. When we came here people said, even our operators refused to go to certain wards especially in Dastabagh... to mention a few, Dastabagh in Gannachhaya in Domburnagar panchayat, in Damchera, to quote a few. Like even in nearby Mandai. So they were scared to go such centres. They said they will kill us. And to expose theory unfounded fear, I personally experienced and my opinion is that the tribal people are very wonderful people. They very co operative, very peaceful have visited all the areas where they had feared and I have never experienced any hostility.
Rather they will... in one of the panchayats in Agartal north, I went there on a three day trip of north. So first day I visited a few panchayats, second day I went to one panchayat, I think it was Jaildarnagar or... Before that I visited one panchayat which was okay although the crowd management was very poor. The panchayat I went to, there was a huge crowd, although we had put ten machines and there was no crowd management at all. So what happened, a few people who came early at 9, especially the sick or old people, all the ladies with small children, came at 9. When the young people came, they just entered into the enrolment station. So they did it first. When I reached there it was 10.40 am. A brawl started. Some people, who were old and came earlier, didn't get the number so they were fuming like anything.
That fuming became so critical, it almost came to blows. When I reached and saw the situation, I immediately ventured in this and asked what the problem was. They explained and on my suggestion and out of respect, they understood me and formed a line. I called all the panchayat volunteers and other people filling the form. I told them, you must have three queues. One for ladies and small children, one for the sick and old and one for the others and you must issue the serial number and when a machine gets free, the serial number will go there. If you do like this, there will be nothing else. Everybody will go in line and there will be some speed. Basically, people who do crowd management, somehow the output became low. Why? Because everybody will go crowd the operator. So by doing this and the heat in the room, with so much crowd nobody can work.
So this was a very big problem- crowd management. But still we have done it and successfully.
Interviewer: How would you describe the relationship with the state government, especially because you represent a private company and they are not that much of a private enterprise culture in Tripura?
Speaker: I am sorry to say we are a private company. You see there's nothing like a relationship with the private companies. We formed a very good and cordial relationship with everybody. All state administrative officers are highly qualified and all other ranks too.
Even language had no barrier. When I came here I never knew Bangla and with one month I started speaking. Now I can speak fluently in Bangla. I can say our behaviour and attitude was already positive. We never think anybody's our enemy, we never feel prejudiced to anyone, and we take everything into out stride in a very positive manner. Therefore as far as I am concerned, I feel we had ---- we had a very cordial relationship with everybody.
We can meet the highest official in this state without any problem. I'll give you an example. A few days ago, I met the DG Police, Mr. SK Sinha. The police commissioner was known very well to us, we did his enrolment also so this DG was transferred here only a month and a half ago. So when we had to start in Government of Tripura and Tripura State Rifle people, we had to take permission from the DG and initially I was told that the DG sir will give us the plan. They gave us the appointment at 4pm, first time we went sharp at 3.45. At 4 o' clock sir called us and he was very cordial, a very wonderful person.
Earlier I think he was working in the embassy in USA that time the ADG, Mr Kishore Jha was also there. He was placed in Berlin with the embassy. They treated us very nicely and gave me their personal numbers. They said I could call them if I had any problem at any time of the day or night. They said 'Don't feel shy, we'll help you'. Then they deputed an IGP, Mr. B K Roy, 'you will be now nodal officer for this Adhaar project'.
So I went to him. Now whenever we want to meet them, we can go without prior appointment. Of course at the gate we have to say who we're meeting. When they know we are from Adhaar, they will immediately pass on the message and call us; they will give us the planning. The relationship has been very good with almost every official in the state.
Speaker: Because personally we enrolled almost 985 VVIPs. I enrolled them either at their houses or they came to our guest house. Along with one machine, we have an operator all the time with us. If anybody requests, we do it. They're welcome. We went to the governor's house, the chief Secretary's house and other high official's houses. We went to the circuit house for enrolment and many other places- tribal development department, RD department, wherever.
This way also we made a lot of good relations. We always oblige everybody because it was, Whatever we do in the rest of the state, we are working for the citizens. It is great that we are serving the residents of the state. Now it is my second home. When I came, I didn't like it because the culture is different, the language is different, there's food problem, there's water problem, there's transportation problem. There's a problem in availability of necessities of life. But subsequently we got acclimatised to it, now I love it.
Very good relationships WE as a company have made, not on a personal capacity. I'm an ordinary citizen. We've had very good support, very good relationships.
Interviewer: In terms of the operators that you hire, how did you go about hiring operators?
Speaker: The first time I came to Tripura was on 27th October, 2010. That was when, we hadn't signed the agreement. We got selected in the tender being a ----- company. 27th October I came for the first time here then we... that night also we did not sleep. We came that morning on the flight, the whole day was busy, the whole night was busy; we were planning how to go. 28th morning we decided to give an advertisement in the paper. We approached many employment companies whether they could provide us with the people. In fact some of the employment companies approached us but they were not so big that they could give us all together (employees). We had planned to put 500 machines which would need 500 operators and 100 supervisors. Besides that we needed technical people who would go to the field, watch the work and handle any technical problems like software hang-ups, software crash, or anything, they have to be prepared.
We got many offers from local people within 3-4 days but we found the best way was to go through the advertisement in the papers. So we prepared one and gave it in the leading papers of Tripura and in the Ad we had given our numbers and they could directly approach us, instead of mailing the data, posting it and wasting time. There was a huge time factor involved.
We got more than, I believe, 2000 applications. Then we had an open interview. It was for 3 days and a lot of people came. We scanned them... I remember those nights we didn't sleep. We had seen so many things -their bio data, they came personally. We gave a standing instruction to the hotel where we were staying that if anybody comes they should take the CV and give it to us in the morning. If it comes at night, it'll be a problem.
And we informed these were the dates of the interview. Through that selection we chose almost... more than 800 people. For the final scanning we kept some things. Like that we employed people. Some of them were really very good, some of them were just normal. This is how we take employees.
Interviewer: on an average, how would you describe the computer literacy of the people that you employed?
Speaker: I think on the general level, the boys came and said we are qualified from this and that. We believed.
See, I had personally interviewed more than 1800 people. During the following day also. What we found, what they write in the CV, they don't know much about it.
When they say they are computer literate, they can do a little work in Word or little work in Excel. That was a really big problem for us.
Since we had who so ever we'll take on to do this work, we'll give them training, so we can take them. Nobody's born perfect. We have to make them perfect. That’s how we got the people. Some of them are very good operators, very good supervisors, some of them are mediocre and some of them were not even fit for that.
Those who were not fit for that, we didn't choose. Mediocre level people were acceptable. We gave them training, they got trained but the other people who were here, some left in the middle, some joined later. This was a big drawback with having local operators and supervisors.
Indiscipline was another thing. Indiscipline means suppose somebody gets a call from their house that their family members are sick, they wouldn't inform and go home. They wouldn't inform whether they're going for a day or two or three. They would simply leave the station without telling us or our block managers or our co coordinators, like that.
This one thing was a shortcoming.
Interviewer: Can you say a little on the plan for... because Tripura has a significant number of defence personnel in terms of Border Security force and Paramilitary Force, what is the plan? Are they being enrolled? What’s the plan for that?
Speaker: Tripura state tribunal and Tripura police are the part of the Tripura residents because there's a very small number of people who've applied from outside. These are state forces. Almost 80-90% has enrolled in the panchayats near their residences. Because whenever they go on leave they're reminded and get it done. But still our effort is to enrol them 100% or something like that.
We have a procedure that they're following regarding the other forces like Assam Rifles. It is not basically only paramilitary forces but it is controlled by the army. The people below the rank of GCOs are local Tripura people. GCOs and above ranks are all army officers here on deputation. So they have not encouraged us so much. Maybe due to the reasons of security or whatever. I am approaching BSF. It seemed to be a bit positive, so let me meet the IGP who is out of Tripura. Maybe tomorrow I will meet him and some positive results will come out perhaps. We are ready to do the enrolment of these people also.
Interviewer: Finally can you say something about Alankit Assignment as a company?
Speaker: Alankit Assignment is a well known name in financial services and healthcare in India. Not only well known or well recognised. We have a lot of different businesses like PAN card, ETDS, Share brokering, TPI, third party. We have multiple branches. In service industry we are a leading company. We have 28 regional offices throughout all the states of India. We have more 1200 dedicated associates. We are also in the healthcare business, we have a chain of pharma stores, supplying medicines to Delhi hospitals and we are a growing company. In terms of manpower also 4000+ are on our payroll.
The company is growing day by day by leaps and bounds.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.
Speaker: Thank you so much.