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The Change-Maker: Now He’s Opening Roads for Them

This officer is remarkable. From giving farmers access to their fields blocked by ``powerful’’ village lords for decades and providing over a lakh pair of shoes to poor school-students, Dr. JK Soni's resourcefulness is unmatched.
Indian Masterminds Stories

Heard about Dr G. R. Khairnar, former Deputy Commissioner of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) of Mumbai? Hailed as the hero of middle-class, he was instrumental in solving a large number of cases of illegal construction and land-encroachment in the capital city of Maharashtra.

Many years later, Dr Jitendra Kumar Soni, a 2010 batch IAS officer, has taken a leaf from Dr Khairnar’s book. This time over, the beneficiaries are the people of Nagaur district in Rajasthan.

Dr  Soni has also started a remarkable campaign to end the plight of poor farmers who were not able to go into their own fields. This happened because “powerful and influential’’ people of these villages had blocked access to the roads which led them to the fields. With the result that the hapless farmers could not enter their own land. This bloackage of roads was continuing for decades in several villages of Rajasthan.

Dr. J.K. Soni, DC of Nagaur, Rajasthan (Image Courtesy : JK Soni)

Dr Soni has started what is becoming a very popular ‘Raasta Kholo Abhiyaan’(Free up the Road campaign). It’s also making headlines because of a connection it has made with women empowerment. The IAS is using the names of girl’s who are doing exceedingly well in academics or sports on the plates used for the demarcation of the roads. This unique take has given a different face to this campaign.  

The Kick-Start

Dr Soni belongs to a very small village Dhanasar in Hanumangarh area of Rajasthan. His father was a farmer. He had faced a similar situation and therefore knew about the struggles of farmers on a daily basis. Recently, he was posted in Nagaur where 80% of the population resides in rural areas. Their whole life depends on farming.

Bitiyan Gaurav Pattika

Talking to Indian Masterminds about the issue, Dr Soni said, “They earn their bread and butter from the fields. It’s the only source of income for many of them. In that case, imagine their helplessness and vulnerability when they are stopped form stepping in their workplace because some goons or powerful people have blocked their access. They can’t even take a tractor in there. After just a few days of my posting, I came to know about the issue. It was strange to me that some of the roads remained blocked for 60 years. I immediately wanted to solve it, so I started this campaign.”

 Right now, the campaign is focusing on the roads which connect the village to the agriculture fields.  

This issue’s roots go way back in the history. In many cases it involved the differences between the upper and lower cast. He had to face opposition from people while implementing the program. They didn’t want to give up so easily, but Mr. Soni was not in mood to turn back. He made a systematic plan to tackle the situation and roped in all the 12 SDM who are under his jurisdiction. Each SDM was assigned to open at least three roads. With their collective efforts, around 115 roads have been unblocked till now in three phases. Thirty eight roads were `freed’ in the very first phase of the campaign, which began in July 31, 2020,

Women Empowerment

After completing the unblocking, stones plates were used for demarcation of the roads so that no one could encroach on them again. The plates consisted information about the unblocked roads. While the campaign was taking off , Dr Soni decided to use it for empowering women as well. He named the plates ‘ Bitiyaan Gaurav Pattika’ in which the names of girl achievers were put alongside other information. He said, “Since it’s a rural area, the overall literacy rate is very low, especially among the females. According to one survey, only 47.8% women could read and write. This is an issue which can’t be solved within a month or year. It needs gradual awareness among the people. So, when we were putting up the plates, I thought why not use it for one a better purpose. I am very glad to share that it has resulted well because the girls and their family were too excited for this. I hope this will make a difference in long term”.  

Making a Mark : Vidyapravhini and Charanpaduka

Mr. Soni is serving as an IAS officer for over 10 years, and Raasta kholo abhiyaan is not the first thing for which he deserves an applaud. In the very beginning of his tenure, he showed up signs of becoming an excellent field officer with his unique endeavours. Posted as the Probationary officer in Pali, he started school on wheels program named ‘Vidyapravahini’. Under this program, projectors were installed in buses to play audio and video series of study material. He and other officers would also visit the slum area to teach the children for two hours. While posted in Mount Abu as SDM, he worked hard for the rejuvenation and maintenance of Nakki lake.  

Dr. Soni distributing shoes to students under Charanpaduka Campaign

One of his most remarkable campaigns was ‘Charanpaduka’. In 2015, he was visiting a school in Jalore district. There he saw that many children could not afford proper footwear while coming to school. This was really got him thinking. Very soon, this resourceful office designed the Charanpaduka campaign with his team. They first did a survey which showed that 25000 children didn’t have proper shoes or slippers in the district. After the results, he arranged a program in which shoes were distributed among the children. Till now more than one lakh students have been benefited by this program.  

Honoured with Raksha Padak for Saving Lives

In July 2016, several areas in Jalore district was facing flood situation. Many houses were submerged in water and people were struggling to get out of the situation. While the rescue operation was going on, Dr Soni’s team received an information about eight people who were stuck in a marooned house. The first attempt to take them out was failed , so they took recourse of an aircraft. While the rescue was going on there occurred a situation in which Dr Soni had to jump into the water to save some children’s lives.

JK Soni saving the children during flood in Jalore

For this act of bravery, Dr Soni was honoured with Uttam Raksha Padak award. But he is not very comfortable talking about it. As he explained,“The government has appointed me to help the people and cater to their needs. It’s my responsibility to fulfill these. My act might be heroic for some people but I think it is my job. If the pilot of plane had not captured the image, it would not have come out. Even so, I would have been satisfied because lives were saved that day.” 

Literature and Photography Connection

Dr Soniofficer is just not only active on the field. He is equally passionate about but literature and photography also amazes us. It’s the connection with art, he says, which has kept him “grounded’’ and helped him be sensitive towards other people. No matter how busy he is, he always takes out time for these twin interests of his. He started writing poetry and story from his school days. His first book, titled ‘Ummedon ke Chirag’, came out in 2008. After this, he wrote many books in English and Rajasthani language, and they were all well received by the readers.. He also translated some books in Rajasthani. For his book `Rankhar’, he was honoured with the the prestigious ‘Sahitya Academy Yuva Award’.

JK Soni honoured by Sahitya Academy

 On balancing work and art, he said, “I have always believed that the administration should be sensitive. Writing and photography helps me to do that and connect with people. Besides this, I am big fan of photography because it lets you to keep the moment alive even when they are gone. What else do we need from life?”  

Ex-President Pranab Mukherji felicitating Dr. Soni for his remarkable work

That’s right, Dr Soni. A satisfied life, lived for helping others, does not require bells and whistles of any kind.


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