At one time, he was Delhi’s own “demolition man”. However, ground (read land) realities hit this bureaucrat-social worker –writer with a thud when his daredevilry triggered off a chain of reactions, leading to the demolition of his authority and a quick transfer. From the powerful position of Delhi Development Authority’s land commissioner, he was shunted to that of its system commissioner.
However, K.J. Alphons may be down but not out. He has decided to make the best of a bad bargain by turning his lack of work and excess time to a profitable venture: writing a book. The book, Making A difference talks about 14 personalities and since they are people like Khairnar and Kiran Bedi, one can anticipate what’s inside. Alphons says his criterion for choosing the people was the “good work done by them, helping to bring about some change in the existing system.”
Whilst entering Vikas Sadan, I saw this bearded man stride across the corridor. By the time I had entered the cabin of the commissioner, he was already in the chair - cool, smiling and ready for the interview. As I switched on the recorder, he grinned, picked it up and placed it near him. “It works.” I said.
Alphons, who was listed among the top 100 global leaders by Time magazine in 1994, says he was born without much brain. “I was a very dumb kind of child during my school days, not good at anything. In fact, when I was in high school, my father advised me not to sit for the exams, fearing I would never get through. But I had the same determination even then and managed to pull it off by the skin of my teeth, scoring a bare 42 percent. It was my first miracle. Eversince, I have been visited and re-visited by miracles.”
He considers his demolition of illegal structures in Delhi to be miraculous too. He had been sent on deputation for five years and “no sooner did I land in Delhi than I was advised not to touch anybody. But I ‘touched’ 14,800 people. I have demolished 14,800 structures costing around Rs. 15,000 crores. I have also reclaimed about 1500 acres, worth Rs. 10,000 crores. So the total damage I have inflicted upon the mafia and the unlawful builders of this city is a staggering Rs. 25,000 crores.”
All this riotous activity led to a great deal of pressure. A lobby of bureaucrats and ministers was in agony, fearing this man was growing too fast and might overshadow it. He was shifted form Kottayam in Kerala too for the same reason. But not before he had made his mark.
“As the collector in Kottayam, I spearheaded a literacy movement to make the town and district the first in India to attain total literacy. I also chalked out a family planning programme which saw the birth rate in the district drop to near zero.” At this point, some of the powers that be felt this civil servant was getting to much publicity and he was sent to Delhi.
The demolition man, however, says he is relaxed today, despite the humbling. “I slaved for four years. I guess I too wanted change, a little rest. So this is fine with me. Moreover, I was not born with the mission to demolish. It was merely a job. I have not only accomplished it but have also created an impact. Somebody else should carry on with the work now.”
As the land commissioner Alphons had to work for 14 to 15 hours. But now that he is suddenly blessed with abundant time, he has taken up other activities. “I love public-speaking though I do not claim to have any special abilities. I am an absolutely ordinary person. The only thing is that I want to get things done.”
Alphons regards himself as a great tramp. “Left to myself, I would love to walk around the world. As the sub-collector at the Periar wildlife sanctuary. It was my daily routine. The best trekking experience I had was during a tour of the Himalayas – great fun for three whole weeks.”
Though he claims he is not superstitious and does not believe in astrology, Alphons knows his sun sign. “I am a Leo and like other Leos, dream a lot. However, I also have the courage to try make them come true. I don’t have any unfulfilled dreams. I have achieved whatever I wanted to.”
Alphons admits corruption in the services is taking its toll on the effectiveness of what he calls the most powerful job in the world. “For every bureaucrat who is willing to stand up and fight, there are 10 who are willing to do dirty work for politicians. This is why Mayawatis have managed to kick officers around. There is a lot of corruption in the civil service, I think it contributes most to corruption in the country. But the entire service is not corrupt, as Seshan said it was. There are honest people too. Unfortunately, they don’t have guts, they are too meek to do any thing.”
He makes it clear that the talk of government interference in the work of bureaucrats is mere “hogwash.” “Everybody keeps cribbing that the system is bad, there is a lot of government interference. But I faced none at all.”
His book tries to show how things can be made to work provided one has the will to do it. It is the same message he is trying to spread through janashakti, which was started with the motto “Let us have good governance, let us refuse to get kicked around, let us do a professional job.”
While Alphons is not satisfied with behaviour of the authorities, he feels irked by the national habit of depending on Sarkar. “Everything is under government control and people are slaves of the system. There is poverty, illiteracy and misery. These will not change on their own. The whole country has to stand up and work for a radical change in the political system.”
Does he want to achieve this through Janashakti? No, he says. “Janashakti’s basically a mass awakening organization and cannot be a central outfit promising to eliminate corruption. Instead, we want people to organize themselves and fight so that it would be power to the people.”
But the people are too preoccupied with surviving the demands of each successive day. So who takes the initiative? Will it be him again?
Alphons, who had in a recent press conference announced that he was considering contesting the election, has since then backed out. “Right now, I feel I still need my job. Or may be the job needs me.”