A HAT-TRICK AT RIPON BUILDING: D.Karthikeyan, IAS
By Sanjay Pinto

The all too familiar and justifiable gripe about the government has been lack of coordination between departments. Enter D.Karthikeyan, IAS. Along with his buddy – Chennai Police Commissioner A.K. Viswanathan, the City’s Municipal Corporation Chief has demonstrated the difference intra-government teamwork can make to the city’s monsoon hit roads. A friendly chat between the two bosses meant that the city police patrol teams were asked to whatsapp pictures of fallen trees, inundated roads and clogged drains to their Commissioner. The top cop in turn, passed on actionable information to the Corporation Commissioner. Zonal officers, on receiving the tip off, swung into action and with help from the local policemen on duty, managed to do their bit to prevent flooding in many parts of the city, so far, this year.

A lot more needs to be done in terms of urban planning, cracking down on encroachments on water bodies, tackling mosquito breeding and ensuring standards in road laying and a moratorium on digging of roads at least a month before the monsoon but in all fairness, credit must be given to the Corporation Commissioner for reducing our monsoon travel travails this year. The partnership with the police aside, Karthikeyan is a veteran boss at the Corporation, with the distinction of being the only officer to have occupied the hot seat at Ripon Building thrice. At the helm, he has seen the use of Electronic Voting Machines for the civic body polls for the first time in 2011 and has weathered many a storm, including Cyclone Vardah last year, and of course, the perennial issue of garbage collection. Through awareness drives, the civic body has enlisted the support of many Residents’ Welfare Associations to provide a fillip to waste segregation at the source. Known for expediting infrastructure projects, Karthikeyan keeps a strict tab on the performance of officers under his sway. Arguably the biggest milestone in his tenure at Ripon Building was the expansion of the Corporation’s jurisdiction from 176 sq kms to a 426 sq km mega city.

(Pic: D.Karthikeyan, IAS, Commissioner – Corporation of Chennai)

After graduating from the Cuddalore Arts College, he completed his post graduation, MPhil and Doctorate in Statistics from the Madras University. “For a short period, I worked as an Assistant Professor at Presidency College.” Then came the big career break with the IAS in ’97. The thirst for public service began as a starry eyed school boy in Cuddalore on whom the “institution of a district Collector made a huge impact.” The grandson of a freedom fighter Sivagnanam, and coming from a humble background, with his father Chittaranjan – a farmer and his mother Chitra – a homemaker, a young Karthikeyan was taught to never take anything for granted.

Cutting his teeth in administration as a Sub Collector of Cheranmahadevi, Karthikeyan went on to preside over the destiny of Erode as its Collector. A ‘Best Collector’ award for his work over three years in rural development and welfare of the differently abled, fell into his lap. In a sort of prelude to his stint in municipal administration in Chennai, Karthikeyan served as Commissioner of the Coimbatore Corporation for three years, where he focussed on e-governance. Recognition of his work came in the form of two national awards.

The reputation of being a strict no-nonsense officer has followed him in all his postings. As the Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Karthikeyan is credited with overseeing zero liquid discharge and the installation of common effluent treatment plants. “I tried to strike a balance between industry needs and compliance.” There were short stints as the Chairman and Managing Director of the Civil Supplies Corporation and the Commissioner of Archaeology. The pull towards the Chennai Corporation, insiders believe, can be attributed to his experience in handling local body elections.

In all my interactions with Karthikeyan, I have always detected a humane streak in his actions. And yes, he has the build that many would consider suitable for an IPS officer! Technologically savvy, he is quick to respond to a text or whatsapp message for help. Although he claims to be camera shy, I have found him quite a natural on television, with no retakes ever required for interviews. His candour was reason enough to screen some of his tv chats for journalism students.

Delving into facts and figures, Karthikeyan and his classmate at Madras University Leelavathy were a number! And it soon blossomed into wedlock. His wife now runs a Software and Statistics Institute. Named after his grandfather, their elder son Sivagnanam, is a budding legal eagle, now into his final year at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. The younger lad Vivekanandan studies Liberal Arts, International Studies & Environmental Science at Flame University, Pune.

A keen badminton player, Karthikeyan also loves to curl up with a book. But that’s a rarity in his present avatar, where every day can bring a climax. The local body polls, possibly by the year end, as suggested by the Madras High Court, may just be that new chapter. Or blurb.

(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, Bestselling Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor and Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)