‘The whole of Mumbai is on my agenda’

Deputy Municipal Commissioner Chandrashekhar Rokde may be in the news for his bold actions against hawkers, but no one's too happy about it. "In the beginning, they always raise a hue and cry. But they will come around," he says, in a chat with ANIL SADARANGANI

HE has been a municipal officer for the last three years and before that, a police officer in for 20 years. And even before that, he was a forest officer. Recently, he "shot to fame" when he boldly implemented the High Court orders against street hawkers and literally drove them away into their holes and cleaned the pavements for the pedestrians.

The 47-year-old deputy municipal commissioner (special) Mr. Chandrashekhar Rokde has come a long way since his cop days but he's not forgotten his training. He's as aggressive as ever and he's determined to rid Mumbai streets of hawkers. "The high court has specified that pavements and roads are for the pedestrians and vehicles only. They said that if there is additional space, then they may be used for selling wares and that too, only essential commodities," he says.

As one exits from Bandra station, shouting hawkers greet commuters and the traffic jam is so acute, there is no distinguishing between the pavements and the road. Sitting in his plush office at Bandra, the Ward office building next to Globus Shopping mall, he's got posters all over the walls shouting — "The pedestrian has the sole right over the footpath". There's a photoframe of him in his police uniform taken in his heydays. But his journey has not been easy. "I got some of the worst postings and responsibilities during my tenure as a policeman and a civic officer," he laughs, reminiscing.

The policeman
Born and brought up in Nagpur, he is a law graduate. At the age of 18, he gave his exams to become a forest officer. "I was posted in Vidarbha, Chandrapur as forest officer. It was bad. But not as bad as when I was in Gadchiroli as Assistant Commissioner of Police," he says. In 1978, he appeared for his IPS exams and scored the highest in his batch. "My first choice had been the police force. You see, they usually hand whatever they want. We have no choice, I was lucky that I got what I wanted at the first try," Mr. Rokde says.

In his youth, like all boys with stars in their eyes, he wanted to be a pilot. "But when I went to the National Defence Academy (NDA), they had various rules about leg length, and height and I failed the test," Mr. Rokde reveals. He has been posted all over Maharashtra, but one posting during his tenure in the police department which has left its imprint on his mind and one which will never fade in its intensity, is the Gadchiroli posting. "They say, if one has this posting then that person can handle anything in his career," Mr. Rokde informs.

He continues, "Gadchiroli is somewhere in the back of beyond, in fact, during that time, it was not even on the map. I was there for a year and a half. There used to be no roads, no electricity, no communication. The only communication methods was through wireless. When it used to rain, there would be no way to move out of the house and we used to be stranded for days."

He is a complete family man and wherever he went, on whichever posting, his wife and son would always go with him. They have been his strength.

In his opinion, the Gadchiroli posting and his posting to Mumbai during the 1992 riots has always drawn parallels in his life. "Yet, they are two extremes in a way. I came to Mumbai in September '92. I was posted at the Pydhonie-Nagpada area as DCP. That was one of the worst times of my life. While in Gadchiroli nothing would happen, but in Mumbai there was always something happening—both miserable," he says.

His tenure in the police force has been a significant period for him, what with serving for 20 years. He has been to the US of A, Israel, UK and other places for training in combat, a commando course, an intelligence course and even an investigation course. Somewhere in between, he picked up an NYPD cap, which still hangs in his office as a reminder of "those days".

The Turning Point
"There comes a time in everyone's life when there is no further one can go. Especially in a policeman's life," Mr. Rokde says, beginning to explain his transition from being a policeman to a municipal officer. "The work started getting monotonous and I was not getting anywhere. I came across this MPSC advertisement in the papers for the municipality and gave it a shot. I cleared the exams and before I knew it, I was posted as deputy municipal commissioner (DMC) of Zone I.

"Post-bomb blast days, Khairnar was at his peak, I remember. We had worked together for the demolitions of Dawood's buildings. That had been the first contact I had with anyone from the municipality. And to be honest, I was immensely impressed by him. He was so daring, so gutsy I have yet to meet someone from the municipality who has anything bad to say about him," Mr. Rokde says with reverence.

While it had not been a tough change for him, in his opinion, both being in the BMC and in the police force, is one and the same thing. "Of course, there are less transfers in the BMC than in the police force," is Mr. Rokde's opinion. While that may be true, he took on his chores with gusto. "As usual, I got one of the most hated jods, that of Solid Waste Management (SWM)," he laughs.

But he did not fret. "My belief is that whatever job has been given to me is the most important," Mr. Rokde says. When he had just started out at the BMC, the plans for hawking and non-hawking zones were only in the pipelines. The high court had not yet passed its verdict for implementation of the Supreme Court's order. "Nandu Satam was the Mayor at that time, and I must say, I give him full credit. He took a personal interest in cleaning up the city," he recalls.

The Latest Story
After serving various posts in the BMC as DMC of various zones, the present municipal commissioner, Mr. Karun Srivastava, with whom Mr. Rokde shares a very good rapport, told him to take on the post of deputy municipal commissioner (special). "He told me that since my work was good, why not try to spread it further," Mr. Rokde says, adding, "So he gave me this office to operate from."

Yet, inspite of his "passionate" actions against the hawkers and spitters and other types who deface the city, Mr. C.B. Rokde will not welcome compliments, comparing him to G.R. Khairnar, Mumbai's original demolition man. "He was good. I am not after anything. I am a law graduate and I also have my police background. It is in my blood to see that thing are implemented well," Mr. Rokde clarifies. He keeps repeating, "I am only implementing the court orders." So where does he go from here? "See, I have taken action in four to five places in Mumbai. They have not been 100 per cent successful, but it is a start. We need the support of the public, the law enforcement agencies, without which nothing can work," he answers. So the whole of Mumbai is on his agenda? "Yes, but one thing at a time," he says cautiously. And when do we see him in the municipal commissioner's post? "Never," he shoots back, point blank. Why? "That is for others, not for me," he says, dismissing the topic. As Mr. Rokde bids farewell in his usual media savvy style, he says, "I am too tied up." That is evident as mediapersons are lined up outside his office. NDTV has just taken his interview and the BBC is setting up to shoot him in action against the hawkers.