Navi Mumbai citizens join their municipal commissioner Tukaram Mundhe during his daily jogs to complain to him directly about corruption in the city
Mumbai: When Tukaram Mundhe, the municipal commissioner of Navi Mumbai, steps out of his official bungalow every Sunday morning for a jog, he carries his office with him.
Any citizen can join him and complain directly to the top civic official in Mumbai’s satellite city. In most cases, action is as swift as Mundhe’s jog.
Since May 2016, the 41-year-old Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer has made his Sunday morning walk an opportunity to look forward to for most Navi Mumbai citizens, and a dreadful affair for the many patrons of corruption in Navi Mumbai. The lean bureaucrat proved to be a very mean customer when it came to fighting corruption and irregularities, and responding to citizens’ grievances.
But when his morning walk titled ‘walk with commissioner’ started giving sleepless nights to politicians in Navi Mumbai, some of them joined hands to pass a no-confidence motion against him in the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation’s general body.
The motion was passed 105 to 6. Only six Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) corporators opposed it, said Ramchandra Gharat, BJP corporator. On 2 November, the state government suspended this motion and virtually gave a green signal to Mundhe to continue.
“I have got a job to do and I will continue to do it. I can’t help if some people are affected when I try to set things right," says Mundhe. No wonder he was cool to the din all around and went to work as usual even after the no-confidence motion was passed. Mundhe’s stoicism also stems from the fact that he has been transferred eight times since he joined IAS in 2005.
Another fact as constant as the frequent transfers has been the overwhelming public support. In Navi Mumbai too, when the citizens sensed that corporators from the ruling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and opposition Shiv Sena were joining hands to get Mundhe out of the way, they launched an online signature drive and a ‘walk for commissioner’ campaign. “The people in Navi Mumbai are fed up with corruption and irregularities that all parties have patronized and we saw that Mundhe sincerely wants to crack down on this corruption. We felt we needed to support him," says Rajeev Mishra, social activist and one of the several citizens who walked for the commissioner.
Mundhe went after illegal constructions, encroachments, and civic contracts that were sanctioned before he arrived but which he thought were an unnecessary drain on the civic budget. He did not shield elected members either. Since May, he has disqualified three corporators and suspended 10 officials including a deputy municipal commissioner. He has also facilitated civic spaces for farmer-consumer markets in Navi Mumbai.
Mundhe is used to both political backlash and public support. In his previous assignment as district collector of Solapur, he cracked the whip on the sand mafia and political patrons of sand smugglers rose against him. The people in Solapur supported Mundhe and protested when he was transferred as a part of a routine administrative reshuffle.
“Everywhere, my approach to work has been to focus on the basic grievances that people face. People are unhappy that they do not even get the basic amenities and services in cities and that is probably the reason why people rise in support when they see their basic questions being addressed," Mundhe says.
Mundhe has also cleaned up the civic space of illegal hoardings and hawkers, something that has endeared him to the citizens who always thought the political class would never be disciplined.
“...Mundhe saheb is cleaning the city of corruption. It is good that chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has backed him," says BJP corporator Gharat.
Rajeev Mishra feels the citizens’ campaign put a lot of pressure on the government to support Mundhe. “Fadnavis must have seen that Mundhe has become popular due to his anti-corruption drive and felt that removing him would damage his clean image," Mishra says.
Mundhe comes from a modest background, probably one of the reasons why he is convinced that the government machinery has to be accountable to people untouched by the government.
A post-graduate in political science from Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Mundhe belongs to Beed, one of Marathwada’s most backward districts. No wonder he believes he has to walk that extra mile to be able to listen to people.
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