Aboli Naravane, the 2015 batch IAS officer of Odisha cadre, hails from Pune. After putting up a brave fight against the pandemic as the ADM of Rourkela, the Maharashtra state topper of UPSC CSE exam is now posted as the Collector of Sonepur.
It has always been her dream to be an IAS officer. Though she had briefly joined as an IRS officer, the iron-willed Aboli Naravane finally got her dream job in her third attempt at UPSC. “We should always opt for a career in which our strengths will be utilized and we can also learn in the process,” she explained. “I had my strength in organization, coordination, goal setting and discipline. In the course of the service I have learned to deal with my weaknesses. Earlier I used to get anxious easily, I used to get tensed easily, and was not good at communicating with people. Being in this Service helped me overcome my weaknesses,” she added.
Aboli Naravane got posted at Rourkela in January, 2020. Her tenure at Rourkela was spent in Covid management. Rourkela being the largest town in western Odisha, got Covid patients from all over western Odisha and Jharkhand as well.
The young IAS officer contracted the virus along with her family including her one year old daughter. “I had to be away from my daughter for seven days,” she shared.
IAS officers are expected to deal with disaster management, elections. “The pandemic emerged as a tough challenge as no one had any idea how to deal with it. Every month we had to come up with new techniques of intervention,” Naravane, IAS shared.
Moreover, initially people were in a state of panic and then there was a sense of complacency between the two waves of the pandemic. Many found it tough to inculcate the habit of wearing masks, something which they have not done before.
“Due to lockdown in the first wave, the supply chains also got strained. We realized that as officers there are so many things we need to look after that are otherwise run on their own,” Aboli Naravane, IAS shared. “The supply of onions was badly hit. We got in touch with the Collector of Nashik to see that vehicles are allowed to ply to Rourkela. Similarly when oxygen used to be supplied from Rourkela, Collectors from all over the country used to call us,” she explained.
The shift to Sonepur
For civil servants, transfer postings are a part of life. While in Rourkela the focus of governance is on ensuring smooth functioning of urban amenities like roads, electricity and development of the town, in Sonepur which is relatively rural, the challenges are of a different nature. For Aboli Naravane, making this transition was not new.
“I have spent 25 years in Pune. In my probation, I was posted at Baripada in Mayurbhanj district which is also the largest district of Odisha and a tribal district. I had also been posted at Balasore, so I am used to the rural surroundings,” she shared.
While talking about her shift to Mayurbhanj as a civil servant after being used to city life at Pune, Aboli said, “Though I was used to city life, the job of a civil servant is such that you hardly get time for socialisation. Initially I faced some cultural shock as the health infrastructure and connectivity is not as developed as in Pune but now I am used to it.”
Leading the development story at Sonepur
Sonepur is the rice procurement hub of Odisha. So the district administration has to ensure that all the farmers get their dues in time. The Sonepur district administration is also in charge of overseeing that all citizens have a decent livelihood, all villages have basic infrastructure, all children are receiving education, and every farmer has some other source of livelihood like poultry apart from paddy cultivation.
Moreover, Sonepur is also blessed with a large weaver community. Traditionally the Bhulia community of the district produced the Bomkai saree. This ethnic product has already been GI tagged by the Indian government.
The sarees, being handloom made, are produced in limited quantities. Usually all members of a family are involved in weaving and it takes the effort of four members to weave a single saree. The sarees are mostly sold through government outlets of Boyanika and Utkaliita to ensure that everyone is assured of the right price. The district administration under the leadership of Aboli Naravane, IAS, is on a mission to ensure that the sarees are sold globally by the weavers through their own stores.
“We are mobilising the weavers to make them understand that their product is unique and they should not limit themselves to selling the product within the state. We are encouraging them to produce more and innovate with their product and make them believe that they can have their own outlets,” the District Collector informed.
A boost to Sonepur’s temples
Odisha is blessed with many historical temples which drives tourism from India. Sonepur too has a presence of many temples like the Patalisrikhetra, Sureswari temple, Lankeswari temple and many others which has the potential to drive tourism in the district. Another focus of the district administration is to develop the basic infrastructure surrounding all the temples and keep them clean. As the pandemic has forced the temples to be closed it has allowed the administration to develop the ambience around the temples.
“We are also in the process of gathering information about the history of each temple site and displaying it outside. Sonepur has excellent road infrastructure. For effective connectivity, railway stations would also be coming up in the next few years,” the District Collector assured.
Shikhsa Setu to bridge the education divide
The Union and state government have provided a model on how to ensure children receive their education during lockdown. These are usually through Youtube classes and worksheets which children have to fill up and give back to the teachers. However, Aboli Naravane pointed out that this strategy is ineffective as only 20 percent of the students are presently attending classes. Hence, she came out with the Shiksha Setu project to ensure that students are able to attend their classes.
Under this program, two schools have been allotted to each Cluster Level Officer who works under the Block Education Officer. Around 190 schools in the district have been selected which would serve as model schools for the Shiksha Setu program. The school teachers are given the target to ensure that every student is able to attend classes everyday through Youtube. If that is not possible, teachers will physically reach the students in their village and make sure that they fill up their worksheets regularly.
The district administration has also roped in guardians and panchayat officers in the village to ensure that the children fill up their worksheets properly. “We are not doing anything new. We just want all the students to take their classes. We are trying to implement what already exists,” shared the modest District Collector.
The vaccination challenge
Rourkela was a town which did not get any negative review for its vaccination strategy. Aboli Naravane shared how she had appealed to people of Rourkela to volunteer for vaccination through her personal Twitter handle while she was posted as the ADM of the city. “I was able to gather around 20-30 young volunteers from Twitter. These enthusiastic youths managed all our vaccination centers right from ensuring that everyone is maintaining social distance to booking appointments for the people, to telling people how to get their certificates. This also made the job of the police easy,” she shared.
Community participation ensures the success of every government program. Vaccination is no different. “While public could be reluctant to listen to the police, when one of their own tells them to do something, people generally follow suit,” she reasoned. The vaccination campaign at Rourkela garnered many positive reviews and the young IAS officer urged other towns to follow such a model. She is also trying to adopt this model in Sonepur. Sonepur vaccinates around 8-9 thousand people per day. Right now the priority is to ensure that people above 18 years of age receive their second doses.
Cracking the pattern of Prelims
The UPSC Preliminary exam was postponed on account of the pandemic and is now scheduled on 10th of October this year. For the civil service aspirants who are looking at acing the Preliminary Exam, the Maharashtra topper shared, “The pattern of the examination changes every year. So you need to understand the trend. For instance, during our time the questions were focused on understanding the basic concepts. Lately the focus was on current affairs. Now, it may again go back to basic concepts.”
The syllabus of the UPSC is vast and tries to overburden the candidates. The key lies in management. “You cannot study everything because the syllabus is unending, hence, you should study the right thing. Analyse past years question papers and minimise your syllabus accordingly and put your 100 percent,” Aboli Naravane, IAS added.