Driven by an idea planted in his mind by his mother Maitreyi, who worked for the Health Department in Karnataka, a young graduate from the Govt. Medical College, Bellary, decided to trade the stethoscope for files. In ’94, he was part of the first batch of Civil Services aspirants to pick Medicine as an optional subject in the examination. The son of an agriculturist – Venkatramanappa, he reaped a rich harvest in the All India Examination. That’s when the three letters ‘IAS’ replaced the four letters ‘MBBS’ after B.Chandra Mohan’s name plate. And right from 1995, his prescriptions for a plethora of challenges in Tamil Nadu have worked, with many firsts to his credit.
Over the last twenty two years, Dr.Chandra Mohan, now the Revenue Secretary of Tamil Nadu, has held several sensitive posts and had to face many a Catch 22 situation, which he battled through sheer ingenuity. In his early posting as the Collector of Madurai, he noticed that “many tanks and lakes were in a state of disuse” and for the first time in the State prepared a compendium of water bodies in the district which served as a blue print for drought mitigation schemes in the years to come. For instance, in Melur Taluk, the three thousand odd farmers wanted a permanent bund built. A monetary crunch loomed large. “With the ‘Food For Work’ programme, we managed to rustle up resources and managed to build a dam, solving a 70 year old problem.” Although his stint as the Collector of Karur was short, the sand mining issue, he recalls, was tackled with a firm hand.
A Chennai assignment as the Deputy Commissioner (Health & Solid Waste Management) of the Corporation of Chennai saw the AIDS Control Programme getting “a fillip” and the civic body emerging as “the first in the country to modernise solid waste management.” Unsold stock and mounting losses greeted him at Aavin. As the Managing Director, in less than a year, he was able to “turnaround” the dairy sector and milk cash profits by plugging loopholes in the system, for which the department collared the Udyog Ratna Award in the capital.
Regulatory issues and industrial disputes got his attention as the Labour Commissioner of the State. “Our biggest achievement was streamlining welfare disbursement to the beneficiaries in a time bound manner through Labour Welfare Boards.” In the saddle as Commissioner of Horticulture, “agriculture was in a crisis.” “Through precision farming, earning three to four lakh per acre was possible. Green homes were promoted and with even a quarter acre, people were able to get twenty to forty thousand rupees a month.” The officer’s “passion for gardens” won Tamil Nadu a Government of India recognition as the ‘Best Horticulture State.’
Arguably his biggest challenge in administration was as the Manging Director of Metro Water, where he had to tackle “three years of drought and a deluge.” The commissioning of the desalination plant aside, Chandra Mohan strategically sourced water for the city from “unconventional places.” Agricultural wells in Tiruvallur were hired and “we were able to pump in close to 120 MLD.” Veeranam was going dry and it took considerable “brainstorming to increase its capacity to 220 MLD”. Chandra Mohan attributes the absence of riots over the acute water scarcity to these proactive measures. At the World Bank Conference, the dynamic officer was invited to share his experience of managing drought in Chennai, along with eight other representatives from across the globe and his initiatives also won the ‘Global Water Leaders Award’.
Water can cut both ways and soon came the problem of plenty with the unprecedented 2015 deluge. A double whammy ensued, with both sewer and drinking water lines down. “When there is no water problem, nobody realises it. When things don’t work, all hell breaks loose.” In Mogappair, the sewage line was damaged as workers had dug an open channel. “I was on the spot till 2 am during that crisis to oversee the repair work.” These were times of personal sacrifice by many unsung heroes and their stories didn’t make it to the mainstream media. Like the story of a “Metro Water Engineer, whose own house was washed away in Manapakkam but worked round the clock, even carrying loads of diesel on his head in neck deep water for motors that were used to pump out water. Or my own driver who also didn’t go home for several days although his own place was flooded.” Then the water lines near the Adyar Bridge had sunk. “The lines were replete with curves and bends. We had to send divers in to set things right.” The sewage system was also badly hit on TTK Road in Alwarpet, connecting many VIP areas and the Metro Water team had to work flat out to restore normalcy under trying circumstances.
There was no looking back after the devastating floods, as Chandra Mohan soon found himself back at Ripon Building, this time as the Commissioner of the Chennai Corporation. Elections in the State were round the corner and the big challenge was to repair the battered roads in the city. Chandra Mohan claims he brought the roads “back to shape in record time.” That apart, he exudes pride in “improving gardens in the city and transplanting trees at the Marina” from private lands.
The history of drought didn’t stop the shower of awards. As the Revenue Secretary, a position he has been holding for about eight months, Chandra Mohan operationalised the online patta transfer and bagged the ‘Chief Minister’s Best Practices Award.’ At the helm of disaster management, he was literally in the eye of the 2016 ‘Vardah’ storm and says his satisfaction stems from significantly “minimising the loss and damage to life” and “getting the media on the same page as the government”. That’s something that just didn’t happen during the 2015 floods.
It’s not clear if Chandra Mohan, a la Jim Reeves, promised his lady love a rose garden. But his gift of the gab certainly won the heart of Karuna Priya, an Indian Forest Service Officer of the 1996 batch, now posted as the Conservator of Forests in Chennai. The officer couple have two budding stars in Mihir Mohan and Kiran Mohan, students at Maharishi Vidya Mandir. Chandra Mohan hastens to add that his “85 year old grandmother Lakshmi Devamma has been a big pillar of strength”
Taking a stroll in gardens and parks, reading fiction, from Jeffrey Archer to Sidney Sheldon and listening to both Hindi and Kannada music keep him occupied. That’s when he isn’t trouble-shooting for the government.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)