Dr. Syed Sehrish Asgar is one of the very few women District Development Commissioner (DDC) in Kashmir. She topped Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) in 2011, and passed Indian Police Services (IPS) as well as Indian Administrative Service (IAS). A resident of Kisthwar, Jammu, has been serving as a DDC of Budgam district, central Kashmir for more than three years now. The Kashmir Walla sat down with her to discuss the problems that citizens of the district face and her aim to empower women.
KA: In three years of your service as District Development Commissioner in Budgam, what were the major challenges that you faced?
SA: Mostly, there were gender-related issues, including girls opting out of schools, with drop-out rate in education sector rising. One of the most important issues to address in it was the lack of facilities for girls in schools, including toilets. The sanitation facilities were not up-to-the-mark, although, we covered ninety percent of such schools and made basic sanitation facilities functional.
I still feel that the education sector in the district is behind and there is a need to work on this issue to strengthen the literacy rate here.
There is a strong campaign going around over drug menace. What are the steps you have taken to curb this menace? Are there any drug de-addiction centers in the district?
There are no drug de-addiction centers in the district, but we have a psychiatric center in the district hospital, where proper counseling is given to help the drug-addicts overcome the addiction. We are also playing a preventive role in curbing this menace with the help of the police. We are taking every possible step to control such activities in the area, but simultaneously it a collective responsibility of society. At most, we can arrest the drug peddlers but how can we identify him? Only people can help us in tracing them. But, people are not coming up. We are doing awareness programs as well to tackle this menace.
We often see people posting on social media about the bad condition of roads and lack of other basic necessities in the district. What are the steps you have taken to resolve these issues?
There are developmental issues in the district like availability of proper roads, electricity as well as other grievances of people. To meet those demands, we are conducting monthly meetings with the Ex-ens (Executive Engineers) and other officials, in which we discuss the presiding issues and how to deal with them.
Recently, we sanctioned around 238 crore rupees for languished projects, which were halted because of non-availability of funds. We have to do a road macadamization of around 3,200 kilometers of road length. Obviously, we cannot cover all the roads, as the money that we receive isn’t enough.
In such a scenario, where we have limited funds, we prioritize the roads that connect the villages to districts and tehsils and where public footprints are large.
There is a sense of miscommunication between departments, like one day there is macdimization going on and another day there will be work for the drainage. Why so?
No, this is not the case. There is always a proper manner to conduct work in any area. However, sometimes in case of emergency, we have no other option. If at times, there is a need to cut the road, there is a proper procedure that another department has to follow.
In the meantime, it is also a responsibility of every citizen to work individually for the better cause. I don’t understand why do people encroach lands. In the last few years, we retrieved more than 500 kanals of state and hay land, which was illegally occupied.
Brick Kilns are creating pollution in the area. According to a media report out of 300 brick kilns, 260 are located in Budgam. How are you planning to deal with it?
In Budgam district, brick kilns are going on for the last thirty years. When I took over, I did not give any fresh sanction in that regard. In fact, I canceled the license of many owners who were not following the rules. Also, we have given them strict guidelines to follow, which will reduce the level of air pollution in the area. Whosoever we find violating the rules, we will take strict actions against them.
In your district, there are three tourist destinations and they are not well developed. Why so?
There are separate Chief Executive Officers for tourism development authorities. Since I joined as a DC, I tried to streamline the things but still, we have problems on an administration level. There is an infrastructure deficit in these places, but we are planning to build public parks and have better roads, electricity and mobile connectivity at these places.
To maintain the footfall of tourists at these places, we have submitted a proposal of rupees 2 crores, which hasn’t been approved yet.
The administration has declared Tosa Maidan as a tourist destination. But, there were recent cases of shell explosion and civilian killings as well?
We did the de-mining activity in the area. After the incident where a boy lost his life, while he was playing with the shell, we recovered thirty mines from the place and placed caution boards there. Earlier, it was Northern Command’s firing range, hence there are chances that a few shells might be buried deep under the ground and it is difficult for us even to remove them.
Here, for all of these works, we need CEOs. As a DC, I have to instruct my CEO to complete these tasks, I can’t review everything on my own. We have forwarded the proposal for that also.
How is governor administration different than the elected government in Jammu and Kashmir. What is the difference at the administration level?
I cannot answer that question. It is a political issue. We are public servants and we give our best for people. I make sure that people can easily reach out to me. I also formed a grievance cell in my office, where I make sure that I respond to every problem that drops in.
Recently you were working towards women mensuration health awareness in the district. How are you planning to improve more such women-related issues?
Recently, we have started women-only buses from Srinagar to Budgam to ensure their safe and convenient travel.
In 145 schools across the district, we have planned to install pad-dispensers, wherein we have already installed in fifty schools. The same facility was installed in DC complex, degree colleges and at the airport. In addition to it, we have also formed Pink Communities, where we have taken on board a teacher and three girls from all institutions. They will be provided with an orientation course, guiding them to become ambassadors to maintain hygiene among girls.
Being a woman, I want to tell every woman out there that it is very important for you to know your importance and to do something for the betterment of society. I have seen many cases where I found girls hesitating a lot in expressing their will, and that shouldn’t be the case. We need women leaders and I believe we can. But at the same time, we, as a society, also need to create a comfortable environment.
This interview originally appeared in 22-28 July print issue of The Kashmir Walla.