Alex Paul Menon writes about Suramoni

A grand and completely deserving Tribute to Boro by Alex Paul Menon IAS

Prime Minister's Rural Development Fellows

Alex Paul Menon, who was district collector of Balrampur and supervisor of Suramoni since he joined the field till about a week before his demise has written to Dr. A. S. Mathew, Joint Secretary in Charge of PMRDF Scheme at Government of India. We reproduce the letter below.


Dear Sir,

I write this mail with immense grief, informing you about the sad, untimely demise of Shri Suromani Boro, PMRDF, posted in Balrampur District of Chhattisgarh. A young soul has departed, leaving behind deep imprints of his commendable work in this remote, backward , naxal-affected district.

Sir, Suromani dedicated his fellowship tenure of the last 20 months in streamlining education sector under my own personal mentoring. We set out on an ambitious journey in this border district known for its demotivated staff and officers along with notoriety for teacher absenteeism and school drop – outs. Suramoni, though from a law…

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Will Swacch Bharat Abhiyan succeed?

India saw a long chain of efforts to eradicate open defecation. It is a shame that even after such sustained efforts around 60 crore people (>50% population) defecate in open. It is said that around a 1000 lives are lost every day because of diarrhea for which open defecation is a major reason.

With effect from 1 April 1999, the Government of India restructured the Comprehensive Rural Sanitation Programme and launched the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) which was later (on 1 April 2012) renamed Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). Thousands of Nirmal Bharat Puruskar were distributed. Most of the Panchayats who received the award have regressed back to open defecation. In my city (Aurangabad, Bihar) – 56000 toilets have been constructed till now by PHED department under different schemes with an expenditure of 23 crore rupees. 

On 2 October 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission, which aims to eradicate open defecation by 2019, thus restructuring the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. Truthfully, I was very skeptical about this programme for a long time. It is only very recently that I have started participating in the programme. And I can tell you that this is one of the best programmes to work in the development sector. It helps me work with the people at the ground level. Now, let me get down to some misconceptions which I had about this programme.

  1. I thought that people will not change their habits easily. However I found that people respond well to trigger when approached systematically. The CLTS approach is intended to provoke people to think about the harms they are doing to their children, especially their daughters by continuing to defecate in open. They are provoked by playing a kind of drama in the public. Public is asked to drink water from a bisleri bottle. They are then shown how flies sit on excreta and sits on water or food. Using a straw, tiny amount of excreta is mixed with water which is then offered to all. Obviously, no one drinks it. But they realise the point we want to convey. Most of the people get immediately ready to begin construction of the toilets in their homes.
  2. People have some land to construct toilets. They all have bathrooms in their homes where they take bath. A toilet can be constructed partitioning that space.
  3. People have water source within 10-20 meters in my district. Almost all women take bath at home for which they require at least 20 liters of water each. For other domestic requirements also, they need water in plenty. If they can fetch that much of water, they can surely take 2 mugs extra for use in toilet. It should be noticed that the rural toilet pans require only 2 mugs of water at the maximum including for self rinsing.
  4. There are always some motivated people who think for their village. They volunteer to become Vigilante committee members and go to the field every day morning to sound whistle at anyone seen defecating or going to do that. This causes great embarrassment to these people. People defecate in open because they know that every body else is doing that. When they realise that not many people are doing it they start feeling embarrassed.
  5. In SBA also, money is paid by the government after the toilet is constructed. So, many argue that people do not have the capacity to spend that much beforehand. Actually, people can do that easily or they get material on loan for a period of 10-15 days given that there is a surety of time payment by the government officials.
  6. The government officials are generally slow in processing the subsidy request but not in SBA where monitoring is tight and regular progress in disbursal is to be shown. We achieved disbursal to all 96 beneficiaries in one village in less than 15 days.
  7. There are simple techniques which have to be kept in mind to avoid a situation in which the constructed toilets remain unused. It happens also because of that facts that toilets are not friendly to be used in all weathers. I asked people to build toilets with clay tiles rather than tin sheets. This makes them air and smell free. Further, people were asked to leave small ventilation holes in all walls so as to make the toilets more usable. I asked people to make cheap doors using oil tins which costs them only Rs 60. This way they can save around Rs 1000 which also acts as a motivation for them. The two pit toilets can be easily constructed in less than 11,000 rupees.

Toilet Construction

Overall, we were successful in making 2 villages open defecation free in just 20-25 days. These villages are Parsa and Sinduriya in Rajpur Panchayat in Nabinagar block. I have visited these villages are regular intervals and found that the momentum is carried forward and the village is still OD free.

Is it a Comma or a Full Stop?

That problem in front of you, is it a comma or a full stop?

Will it halt you in your tracks forever, or will you be able to find a strategy to move past, around or through it?

What about that rejection that you received, is it a comma or a full stop?

Will it give you an excuse to give up, or will you keep trying?

Life isn’t a short, smooth, straight lane.

It’s often a long, winding trail full of obstacles and challenges.

And off to the side of that trail, you will find those who have given up too soon on their dreams.  They’re sitting there wondering what could have been, but refusing to press on.

They ran into one too many challenges and had one too many setbacks.

And they became a full stop, ending their aspirations.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Turn your full stops into commas.

Turn your reasons for stopping into reasons to keep going.

Turn your failures into learning experiences.

Make it a comma, not a full stop.

Death wins over life in Siachen

“We, the willing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.” Notes from the diary of a soldier who served in Siachen. (Original quote by Mother Teresa.)

India and Pakistan may have their guns aimed on each other at Siachen, but in reality they are both fighting nature, nature defeating them and being defeated by them. At 20,000 feet the world’s largest glacier outside the North and South Poles, Siachen is the world’s highest battlefield.

Till 1984 neither India nor Pakistan had any presence on the glacier, the distrust on Siachen began over mountaineering expeditions. As per the 1949 Karachi Agreement, the cease-fire line between India and Pakistan for disputed Jammu and Kashmir was described as running to map coordinate NJ 9842 and “. . . thence north to the glaciers”.

This line was never demarcated over the glaciers keeping in view the utterly inhospitable climate of Siachen. While India interpreted that the LOC here should extend to the last demarcated point NJ 9842 northeasterly along the Saltoro Range to the Chinese border, Pakistani interpreted that the LOC extends straight from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass towards the Chinese border. The 2003 ceasefire has ensured cessation of military hostilities, but fatalities have not stopped; more soldiers have been killed by the extreme weather conditions than by the conflict.

Military presence at Siachen costs India almost a million US dollars daily, annual costs for maintaining the Siachen outposts for India are around 300 million US dollars and for Pakistan about 100 million US dollars. Although both Indian and Pakistan have not been divulging any causality figures but we know that Indian soldiers are killed every now and then.

Soldiers stationed in temperatures as low as -60 C with fierce snowstorms that can reach speeds of 300 km per hour (150 knots) takes more toll than any military confrontation here could.

Majority of Indian outposts are above 18,500 ft altitude (some at 22000 ft), Indian Army controls the Siachen heights while Pakistan Army controls the Gyong La passes. In terms of accessibility Pakistan army is better off since the road head is only 20 km away from its farthest post, while on the Indian controlled side the road head is about 80 km away its farthest post.

Soldiers coming back from these posts often suffer from vision problems, hearing and memory loss (prolonged use of oxygen masks). Frost bite in such places may lead to loss of feet and hands.

Of all the issues between India and Pakistan, Siachen should have been the easiest to resolve since it involves a lifeless chunk of ice that is inhospitable for any human population. But like other issues between the two countries, this one is also been converted into a ‘nationalistic pride’ by hawks on both sides. It is these extreme elements who have been ensuring that any resolution aimed, confidence building between the two countries are held hostage to a general mistrust. All war mongering experts on both sides of the divide who advocate continuance of the Siachen war should for a change be asked to walk their talk by serving at least one soldier’s term at these outposts.

Supplies on both sides for thousands of troops stationed there and the leftovers have created Siachen as the worlds ‘largest and highest’ garbage dump. Whatever of supplies and ammunition goes up the Siachen glacier never comes back. Almost more than 40% of the thousands of tons of garbage left at Siachen are plastic and metal. Worn out ammunition, crashed transport, supply canisters, rotten and done away food, plastics, discarded cloth and missed para droppings; everything forms part of this irretrievable garbage dump.  Since the ice glacier lacks any biodegrading agents, whatever garbage is dumped at Siachen percolates into the glacier system and eventually releases harmful toxins like cadmium and chromium into the glacial water system, polluting the water that flows downstream into Shyok and finally into Indus. The waters of Indus feed millions of people downstream both in India and Pakistan.

The Siachen conflict is seen as a pointless battle, where the human and economic costs far overweight the achievements. A withdrawal from Siachen region would not put India and Pakistan at any loss if proper monitoring mechanisms were put in place. The challenge however is to put in place a withdrawal system where no side is shown to have lost face or security.

The hawks may portray a withdrawal from Siachen as a window for Kargil type incursion; in reality such hype may not have any basis or connection to the strategic location of Siachen. The deployments across pockets of Siachen are so tough and thinly placed that any major advances from these areas may not be possible. Implementation of efficient monitoring systems could easily counter such concerns. If Sharm-al-Shaikh on the Sinai peninsula, Egypt could be designated an ecosystem, jointly managed by Egypt, Israel and Jordan why can’t the wilderness of Siachen be?

Siachen being a part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir, the tussle between India and Pakistan on this piece of ‘real estate’ is seen more of egos, than of strategies.

Leaving Siachen as an eco-park where either of the militaries have no presence can not only stop the glacier from further degradation, save countless human lives downstream, but also set precedence for resolving the bigger Kashmir issue. If India and Pakistan cannot come to terms on a Godforsaken habitation less glacier which neither controlled till 1984, how can they ever come forward to resolve the more contentious Kashmir issue where human tragedy has been endless?

The posts of Siachen are obscure islands where each soldier, each human is left to fend for himself, cutoff from the real world.  It is these places sanity and insanity coexists closely in the same mind and body, the tripping point towards insanity so thin and undefined. It often becomes a race against a still time when civilization is reduced to a kerosene fume filled snow bunker in the midst of a white, unforgiving desert. In such situations it is not the opposite side that is a soldier’s biggest enemy but the merciless nature. The cost of an inconsequential battle is often unseen by the state, borne by the uncelebrated soldier. It is high time peace and sanity prevails over jingoistic nationalism. India and Pakistan can surely find better use to the money, men and efforts that they are freezing in the high wilderness of Siachen. Let Siachen lead the way for Kashmir.

है प्रीत जहाँ की रीत सदा – इंदीवर

A truly patriotic song which can be heard all over India on 15 August and 26 January. It is informative as well. I like this song as it is not jingoistic or boasting. Some may disagree that India is getting regressive or such progressive society is a long gone story. I only have to say that even if one falls on the road for a moment, he/she doesn’t become any less important. India will rise up to its core values and we all have to work towards it – One person at a time.

जब ज़ीरो दिया मेरे भारत ने, दुनिया को तब गिनती आई
तारों की भाषा भारत ने, दुनिया को पहले सिखलाई

देता ना दशमलव भारत तो, यूँ चाँद पे जाना मुश्किल था
धरती और चाँद की दूरी का, अंदाज़ लगाना मुश्किल था

सभ्यता जहाँ पहले आई, पहले जनमी है जहाँ पे कला
अपना भारत वो भारत है, जिसके पीछे संसार चला
संसार चला और आगे बढ़ा, ज्यूँ आगे बढ़ा, बढ़ता ही गया
भगवान करे ये और बढ़े, बढ़ता ही रहे और फूले-फले

है प्रीत जहाँ की रीत सदा, मैं गीत वहाँ के गाता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

काले-गोरे का भेद नहीं, हर दिल से हमारा नाता है
कुछ और न आता हो हमको, हमें प्यार निभाना आता है
जिसे मान चुकी सारी दुनिया, मैं बात वही दोहराता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

जीते हो किसीने देश तो क्या, हमने तो दिलों को जीता है
जहाँ राम अभी तक है नर में, नारी में अभी तक सीता है
इतने पावन हैं लोग जहाँ, मैं नित-नित शीश झुकाता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

इतनी ममता नदियों को भी, जहाँ माता कहके बुलाते है
इतना आदर इन्सान तो क्या, पत्थर भी पूजे जातें है
उस धरती पे मैंने जन्म लिया, ये सोच के मैं इतराता हूँ
भारत का रहने वाला हूँ, भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ

Jainism and some answers

Minority status

Now there are 6 communities classified as minorities under National Commission on Minorities Act, 1993. Jains were added in the central list in 2013 end before which 5 communities were there.

It differs state to state.

Punjab – Sikh majority

J&K, Lakshdweep – Muslim majority

Mizoram, Nagaland – Christian majority


Because it is a distinct religion which is numerically very small. So, by the very basic definition of minority religion, it is one. It was so recognised in most of the states.


Can maintain there own religious institutions. Will have more autonomy and safeguards in maintaining educational institutions, trusts, temples etc.

People can benefit from scholarships, education and self – employment loans. The benefits of MSDP (Multi Sectoral Development Program) will not be there because there are no concentration areas.

Jain being a relatively prosperous community does it need such benefits?

There is no doubt that it should be classified as a minority religion. The autonomy and safeguards are required for minority religions world over. Our Constitution also gives that. It does so to deal with every possible situation which may arise in future. Human history is replete with instances where such safeguards were found necessary. Jains also have impoverished people who will be benefitted with welfare schemes. It is pertinent that such schemes should have income related criteria to ensure that only people is need get benefits.

Why Jainism declined from its birthplace?

I wouldn’t say that Jainism declined absolutely. It came as a corrective measure against the undesirable practices which came in Vedic religion. The aim was not to establish a grand religion or to spread world wide. In that respect, we see that the influence of the thoughts of Buddha and Mahavira have left indelible mark on different religions. From killing animals as a part of religious ceremonies to adopting vegetarianism, inclusion of principles like Satya, Ahimsa, Aparigrah, Brahmcharya, Asteya etc have been included in almost all communities. Even if we say that they are not original thoughts of Jainism, Jainism must have reinforced them.

Why buddhism flourished while jainism declined?

Jainism was very stringent. It leaves very little room for variations. It was not at all possible for Kings to follow such principles. Also, it makes it less attractive for potential followers. Further, it can be said that strict reliance on vegetarian food was feasible in the Ganga plains. It is extremely difficult to follow that in the coastal areas like Odisha or in high mountains like Ladakh.

Reason for prosperity?

Protestant values – frugality, spirit of enterprise – Habit of saving, emphasis on personal conduct, virtuous life and education

Historical factors like business communities adopting the religion

Santhara – do you support it?

Yes ! In the form that I understand it. In Jains we have 2 kind of people – Moksha Margi who follow Mahavrata and Grahastha who follow Anuvrata. People who are walking the path of Nirvana for 30-40 years when they feel that the time of leaving this body behind is coming, they prepare themselves for a controlled stable departure through a long and elaborate process called Santhara. Ideally it is of 12 years. They start taking less food, increase the frequency of fasting and concentrate more on meditation. There should not be any pain or suppression of urges. There should not be suppression of hunger, there should be no hunger. The idea is not to have urges. (Jain monks Pluck their hairs by hands in a very stoic way)

Similarly, when someone having high spiritual attainments face a life threatening disease and there is no way out in Ayurvedic medicines or naturopathy, then with the permission of their Acharya they may choose to take Santhara. But it is given only by the head Acharya of the Sangha and it is a rare thing and allowed only to monks/saints.

The movie Ship of Theasus (Director – Anand Gandhi) shows one such story. But the monk there was in pain and he himself realised that he is not able to maintain his calm and composure during Santhara. So he chose to rather have a treatment than having ill thoughts.

Can a Jain do his/her job as an Officer or say a Police Officer properly with Jain values?

Definitely! In fact I believe that my values will guide me to work more efficiently and more effectively. Jainism emphasises on doing one’s duty properly and on

Detachment (one should not have Moh) which enables one to take tough decisions.

empathy – work for reducing others’ pain

Humility and Aparigrah – will help in saving oneself from all the lures which trap people commonly in these services.

Relevance of Jain principles in today’s society ?

Inner peace – contentment – a feeling of humility and gratitude – Will make people’s life better in today’s chaotic world

Non-violence, tolerance – will bring peace in the world

Crime, violence, corruption will reduce if everyone follows moral principles which are so well detailed in Jain philosphy.

My UPSC interview questions

Interview – April 29 – 1st in Afternoon

Board – P. Kilemsungla Ma’am


Questions by Chairperson –

  1. You have written Teaching as a hobby, what kind of teaching do you do?

  2. What did you gain from teaching slum kids?

  3. Are you still in touch with these kids?

  4. What could be done to improve the education services in rural areas?

  5. Give me two solutions which would be effective in bridging the quality of education rich and poor students get?


Member 1 –

  1. What is the difference between society and civil society?

  2. Do you think the difference is artificial? Wouldn’t it be better if we have only – a society and not many civil societies?

  3. Name major insurgencies which happened in India after 1947.

  4. Explain any one of them. (Explained Punjab issue)

  5. How do you see the role of administration in dealing with this particular issue?

  6. What can we learn from this?


Member 2 –

  1. You studied Metallurgical Engineering, then why did you opt for Sanskrit Literature?

  2. In ancient times, there used to be no writing mechanism or printing, how did our ancestors retained such vast literature?

  3. Why are we not able to remember even one verse?

  4. What were you doing for past four years after graduation? (Told about joining PMRDF)

  5. Is this scheme workable? Do you think such programmes should be there at all?


Member 3 –

  1. You were talking about Shruti and Smriti as modes of keeping record. I want to check your memory. Tell me Maheswar Sutra.

  2. What is the importance of Maheshwar Sutra?

  3. Have you read that Kalidasa has described several regions in India apart from Kashmir where saffron is grown?

  4. How do you think he could possibly know such things?

  5. Have you read Ritusamhara of Kalidasa?

  6. You must have read that Kalidasa was a dumb person earlier. How did he change?

  7. What can we learn from this?


Member 4 –

  1. How can we tackle the problem of slum proliferation in India?

  2. Is microfinance a workable option in low cost housing sector?

  3. You must have heard of high profile resignations lately – in India and elsewhere also?

  4. Do you think that such resignations are justified?


Overall, the board was very cordial. At no point did they show any positive or negative expressions. I did not give good answers in situation based questions. Even in other questions, I gave very general answers. 

Review of Everyone Loves a Good Drought by P Sainath

A very nice post about the book I recommend to everyone.

a reader's words

Everyone Loves A Good Drought
By P.Sainath
Penguin India 1996, Price : Rs 295/- Pages: 470
ISBN: 0-14-025984-8

Palagummi Sainath is a bitter man.

On a Times of India fellowship in the year 1992, Sainath has toured some of the poorest districts in the country to know how the poorest of the poor citizens of free India live.

Exist might be a better word.

The book under review is a collection of reports that the author filed during his tours. Some of the reports kicked up controversies and in a few cases even led to some action on the part of the authorities. It is another matter that these were a drop in the ocean, and provide only an academic satisfaction in the otherwise grim scenario.

Sainath’s main findings can be summarized in one word- apathy. Apathy towards the victims of rural poverty in the country. Around this core, he…

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The story of a blind girl

There was a blind girl who hated herself just because she was blind. She hated everyone, except her loving boyfriend. He was always there for her. She said that if she could only see the world, she would marry her boyfriend.

One day, someone donated a pair of eyes to her and then she could see everything, including her boyfriend. Her boyfriend asked her, “now that you can see the world, will you marry me?”

The girl was shocked when she saw that her boyfriend was blind too, and refused to marry him. Her boyfriend walked away in tears, and later wrote a letter to her saying:

“Just take care of my eyes dear.”

This is how human brain changes when the status changed. Only few remember what life was before, and who’s always been there even in the most painful situations.

Life Is A Gift

Today before you think of saying an unkind word–
think of someone who can’t speak.

Before you complain about the taste of your food–
think of someone who has nothing to eat.

Before you complain about your husband or wife–
think of someone who is crying out to God for a companion.

Today before you complain about life–
think of someone who went too early to heaven.

Before you complain about your children–
think of someone who desires children but they’re barren.

Before you argue about your dirty house, someone didn’t clean or sweep–
think of the people who are living in the streets.

Before whining about the distance you drive–
think of someone who walks the same distance with their feet.

And when you are tired and complain about your job–
think of the unemployed, the disabled and those who wished they had your job.

But before you think of pointing the finger or condemning another–
remember that not one of us are without sin and we all answer to one maker.

And when depressing thoughts seem to get you down–
put a smile on your face and thank God you’re alive and still around.

Life is a gift – Live it, Enjoy it, Celebrate it, and Fulfill it.