An officer's vision makes a drab police camp an oasis of self-sufficiency
If you want more to do than a wind-caressed ride across a tranquil lake, you could jump into the swimming pool. Then how about cooling down before dinner with an hour's surfing on the Net at the plush computer centre? You could be forgiven for thinking this was excerpted from an advertisement for a holiday resort. You could also be forgiven if you went to this hill-top police camp in Goregaon, Mumbai, and obstinately refused to believe it is only a welfare centre for policemen and their families.
The State Reserve Police (SRP) camp in Mumbai is a pleasant 136-acre campus with the air-and amenities-of a vacation spot. Of course, like any other police camp, it receives no special treatment or funds from the Maharashtra Government but runs like a small, efficient business establishment and even rakes in annual profits of over Rs 1 crore. The money is used for providing better facilities to the nearly 2,000 SRP personnel and their families. The metamorphosis from a camp distinguished by the drab khaki colour of regimentation came about because one man was prevented from doing his duty.
Five years ago, Yogesh Pratap Singh thought his career as an IPS officer had come to an end. During his three-year posting in the anti-corruption branch of the CBI, he had dared to take on powerful business houses and corrupt bureaucrats. He had even carried out investigations into UTI schemes. On being transferred to Nagpur in 1996, he took his case to the law tribunals, and won when it reached the Supreme Court. He was reinstated in 1998 but given a more innocuous posting as commandant at a moribund SRP camp.
But Singh found action where it did not exist. He decided to energise the less-than-sufficient Rs 3 lakh welfare fund. He shut down the loss-making bakery at the camp and sought ways to fully utilise the camp's prime location and its proximity to the city's western express highway. He then renovated and furnished the camp hall into a banquet hall and started hiring it out for Rs 22,000 a day for weddings and parties. The cash registers began ringing.
There was derisive laughter all around, however, when Singh dared to think of constructing a swimming pool and a lawn atop an irregular-shaped hill at the camp. The pool alone would cost over Rs 50 lakh. The commandant scoured the Internet to learn about pool construction. At the same time, he got the SRP men to level the hilltop with their new bulldozer. In six months' time, a 30 m pool was ready. It had cost Rs 6 lakh. In a similar manner, a dirty pond in the complex was also widened and converted into an artificial lake with boating facilities.
Bollywood was among the first to notice the change wrought by a man's vision and his force's shramdaan. Thirsting for fresh locales, filmmakers found the camp's away-from-the-city attractive. The makers of Sarfarosh, Badal and Fiza paid Rs 30,000 a day for use of the premises.
Singh left no stone unturned in the camp. The once-tiny grocery store has now been expanded into a 2,000 sq ft departmental store open to the public. It is stocked with all items of daily use and the hoarding-"The cheapest shop in town is right here"-isn't incorrect either. Consumer goods are available at a 10 per cent discount, while foodstuffs sell at prices that are 30-40 per cent lower than in city stores. The cash counters at the store record sales of over Rs 1 lakh a day, and on Sundays the queues to enter the store spill over to the highway. The camp earns a profit of 3 per cent on each item sold, while families save up to Rs 1,000 a month in groceries, besides having a rollicking time at the camp.
Yet there is no word called complacency in Singh's life. He continues to dream big. He plans to boost next year's revenue by another Rs 50 lakh. The money will be used for other projects in the pipeline-a school equipped with audio visual aids, a hospital and a sports complex with an Olympic-size swimming pool and tennis courts.
"I think my biggest contribution has been the setting up of a system," says Singh, "rather than an individual-specific venture." It seems like it has taken a police officer to hit upon the mantra for change.
This article was published in IndiaToday Magazine. True.. common man should take the initiative for reforms rather than waiting for government to turn every single tiny rock.