BHUBANESWAR: Sixth from Orissa, the first Oriya lady and the first married woman in India to top the All India Civil Services Examination, Roopa Mishra, district collector of Kalahandi, has been handling challenges of the job with ease, levelheadedness and patience. A 2004 batch civil services topper, Mishra has accomplished many important responsibilities in her seven-year-old career — sub-collector of Khurda district (2006), deputy secretary, home department (2008), and collector of Nabarangpur district (2009) prior to her present role.
Mishra’s childhood saw her relocating to many places along with her father who was in the administrative services. Changing schools and colleges, Mishra, post a BCom from BJB college in 1998 completed her management degree from Utkal University (2000) and joined the same university as a consultant. It was during her MBA days, she met her husband Anshuman Tripathy who, she acknowledges, as her greatest support besides her parents in preparing for the civils. “I always wanted to get into the administrative services and envisioned myself to be a leader. But like any other youngster, I too was wavering between various options. This uncertainty got a direction when I married Anshuman. He insisted I shift base to New Delhi and devote a year to the UPSC exam.”
Her subjects were psychology and public administration when she appeared for the exam from Ravenshaw University, Cuttack, in 2003.
Mishra ensured her answers had no semblance with anyone else’s. “I always link real life incidents to textual reading. I began my essay on democracy citing an example from the movie Nayak . My studies were quantum-based with 8 to 10 hours of effort a day.”
In her first assignment as sub-collector, Mishra got the opportunity to conduct panchayat elections, handle law and order situation and streamline public distribution system-related activities. But it was her tenure as collector of Nabarangpur and Kalahandi that have been most satisfying. “It is the district postings that gave me immense scope to deal with multifarious and multidimensional activities. Both the districts I worked were very backward, though richer in other ways. There have been developmental challenges in implementing pilot programmes in health and nutrition, agricultural interventions linking to markets and connectivity between places and industry-related problems which I enjoy working on,” explains the bureaucrat, who has her six-year-old son Adarsh clinging to her during most of her meetings at home.
Ask her about her most satisfying work, pat comes the reply, “The day I joined as the collector of Kalahandi, people were on the streets protesting 16 hours of power cut a day due to a complete collapse of the power distribution machinery. This had been persisting for over a month. My first task was to restore normality. People had lost faith in the government and hence I had to call public representatives from different forums and assure them of early redressal.” She succeeded in providing uninterrupted power within the time she had promised.
Mishra has done it all in her one-and-half-year stint — She streamlined paddy procurement from the mandis by convincing farmers to support the government’s decentralised system of procurement. Mishra worked to control the spread of epidemics in her district. She also ensured that poor people benefitted from National Rural Employment Guarantee Act — Mishra’s team generated 30-lakh odd mandays. She facilitated the construction of `54 crores worth hostels with provision for water and toilets by the Integrated Tribal Development Agency.
“There is a lot of spotlight on IAS because of the benefits but there are also challenges one must deal with an iron hand. There was this 52-day strike against the Vedanta project in Niyamgiri and many people were arrested. This was followed by the visit of then Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh. The Saxena Committee had also tabled its report and we had to handle its fall-out. It is extremely taxing at times,” explains the officer who feels officials at times do not like to be rebuked by women officers. “But if you talk sense, even a mob of 1,000 men would listen to me and respect my decision,” she says.
Motherhood has metamorphosed this 34-year-old into a sensitive person towards children’s issues. At public grievance meetings she is often seen interacting with mothers to check if they have availed of immunisation programmes for their kids, if they are sending their wards to schools or nurseries, etc. “If being Kalahandi’s collector has taught me patience, being a mother has made me stronger to balance life under any circumstance.”