It’s usually the other way around. Senior bureaucrats are coveted by India Inc for their rich experience and connections and may be snapped up with mega buck offers, either post retirement or as a mid career trajectory change. But when the passion for public service is so deeply ingrained in your psyche, a leap of faith from the corporate world to a government job is bound to fructify. And so it was with Sandeep Nanduri. An Engineering degree from Vasavi College, Osmania Univerity, topped by an MBA from the premier IIM, Bangalore, his intellect and zest were enough for Hewlett Packard to grab this youngster at their campus placement drive. In a few months, Sandeep earned his spurs and was almost exceeding his targets as a Sales Manager.
Despite a commendable appraisal, Sandeep was restless. As the son of an IPS officer who retired as an Inspector General of Police, having spent his childhood and adolescent years in Officers Colonies, the charm of the uniform was irrepressible. “My super cop dad – Madan Mohan and home maker mom – Vijayalakshmi instilled in me a quiet sense of confidence to surmount any challenge.” Sandeep realised that preparation for the Civil Services Examination was a “full time” task and did not want to have “a regret later” in life – of trading his childhood dream for the cushy environs of a corporate job. “I wanted to make at least one attempt.” So when he broached the subject of resignation at HP, his bosses were crest-fallen and offered him a substantial salary hike! But he dug his heels in. And quit. The next couple of years entailed sheer bull work with Public Administration and Anthropology as his optional subjects for the exam. The first crack worked and Sandeep got into the Indian Revenue Service to be posted as Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax. That was still not quite what his heart desired. In his second attempt, he was ranked 91st in the All India list and walked into the IAS. In hindsight, the corporate swan song gave him a “feel of the private sector” and considering the unpredictable nature of the Civil Services exam, was a viable “back up career plan.”
The maiden posting for this 2009 batch IAS officer was as Sub Collector at Hosur. “This was a tribal belt and within 3 months, we managed to embark on a Schedule Tribe Certificate Drive, enlisting their children and processing more than a thousand applications.” The next stint as Additional Collector – Salem, helming the District Rural Development Agency witnessed an innovative Yercaud Summer Festival. “We organised a sort of tourist mela with a fund raiser.” A whiff of his business background probably leaked a wee bit!
Taking charge as Executive Director of Metro Water in Chennai during a drought period in 2013 was a challenge. “This was quite a learning curve for me. We devised a drought management plan and were able to tide over the water crisis with a mix of strategies. Desalination plants took care of about thirty per cent of our requirement. We lined up water from Cuddalore as a back up. Agricultural wells and rain water harvesting contributed to saving the day for us.” The department won an international Global Water Award that year.
Awards seem to follow Sandeep. In his present avatar as the Commissioner of the Madurai Corporation, the civic body won a Government of India Digital Award for its proactive grievance redressal mechanism, through online platforms, particularly the social media. One of his initial targets was to get Madurai a Smart City Ranking, which he accomplished. The business stripes were back to the fore here. “I raised about a crore from banks and companies for development and infrastructure. We constructed toilets, renovated parks and maintained the tempo with the existing Beautification Drive.” Madurai is not new to the poster menace. “We roped in volunteers, especially students, to transform defaced walls into show-pieces of art with themes ranging from history to traffic awareness.”
The officer streak in the family also saw Sandeep taking the hand of Adyasha, the daughter of an IAS officer – A.K. Parida, Special Chief Secretary, Department of Public Enterprises in Seemandhra. Adyasha works for Edge Verve Systems, a subsidiary of Infosys. A cursory glance at their facebook pictures will egg you on to think that they are college love birds! The giveaway is their cute little kindergarten son Samarth who smiles in between. The couple are movie buffs who try to catch a flick every week. Sandeep loves to read fiction, watch english tv serials and pedal his way to fitness, thanks to his senior Ashwin Kotnis, IPS, who “inspired me to start cycling.” As for the cycle of life, will he be tempted to take the corporate plunge again? “Perhaps only as a sabbatical at some point. The job satisfaction you get in the service is something no money can buy.” The temple city of Madurai will pray that its municipal commissioner stays this way.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer of the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)