If there is anything that bureaucrats look forward to or dread in equal measure, it’s the ‘Transfer & Postings’ order from the Secretariat. The reaction depends entirely on whether it’s a plum transfer or a punishment posting. But there’s one officer in Tamil Nadu, who, a la Rudyard Kipling, meets “triumph and disaster” and treats both these “impostors” just the same. ‘Punishment Posting’ is perhaps the only expression Dr. Santhosh Babu, IAS, doesn’t understand. This 1995 batch IAS Officer who has had a fair share of the conventional ‘ups and downs’ in his career, views every new assignment as an “opportunity to innovate.” In the recent Christmas season, Dr. Santhosh Babu, turned the Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation, popularly referred to as ‘Poompuhar’, that he now serves as the Chairman & Managing Director, into a potential Santa Claus. Brand Poompuhar has now stormed into the e-commerce and social media space. So all those ethnic gifts are just a click away, what with a new hybrid app as well for smart phones.
The marketing team now flaunts iPads, all the products are bar coded and an MoU has been inked with India Posts for orders and delivery. These proactive steps to take brand Poompuhar to the next level could have been jolly well postponed as Santhosh was posted by the Election Commission of India as an Observer for the Jammu & Kashmir poll for three weeks. Trust this tech savvy officer to overcome the situation, which he did through Skype discussions with his team back in Chennai, to get his brainchild off the ground. Not just at Poompuhar, wherever he has been posted, this doctor turned administrator has proved that ‘innovation’ is his middle name. When he was the Collector of Krishnagiri, Santhosh created India’s first Rural BPO at Hosur for naxal affected youth and developed a tracking software back2school.in to locate and bring back school dropouts through “a convergence of schemes, funds and functionaries.” Instead of cribbing about lack of funds for maintenance of sports stadia, here was another rabbit out of his hat – a ‘Fund In Perpetuity’ of 1 Crore, which he raised “in an hour” by roping in “100 influential people” to contribute 1 lakh each. “This fund was not to be touched. The interest of ` 60,000 a month was to go towards the upkeep of the Krishnagiri District Sports Stadium.” In return, the donors were given Life Membership at the stadium. In Sivaganga, as the Collector, Santhosh established the country’s first All Woman Courier Service. “I firmly believe that citizens must not see the government but feel it. And the only interface between the two must be through the internet.” So when he was the Special Officer of the Chief Minister’s Grievance Cell, he computerised the entire redressal system. Google, Facebook or Flipkart would have grabbed this officer had he been open to the private sector! Santhosh has launched 13 government sites. And counting.
As the Managing Director of the Electronics Corporation Of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT), the Director of E-Governance and later as the Secretary – Information Technology, Santhosh ramped up the State Data Centre, turned the Tamil Nadu Corporation for the Development of Women into the State’s First Paperless Government Office and ensured that citizens who usually run from pillar to post for about 10 of the most common documents like Community or Nativity Certificates, can apply for them online and get digitally signed print out from their homes or offices or public browsing centres, without having to visit government offices and grease palms. “Files should and can move at the speed of thought.” But he regards his innovation at the Horticulture Department as the most fulfilling. The government was doling out 100% subsidy for micro irrigation projects. As the Commissioner, Santhosh says he found that “people were taking this grant without establishing the units.” To plug this loophole, came a novel Geo Sensing Technology tool, with which he used mobile phone software to track the installation process with data compression photographs as evidence to release payments. What an idea, Sirji! This is just a sample of his 150 plus initiatives as an IAS Officer in Tamil Nadu. Small wonder that Santhosh has bagged a slew of awards from the Best Collector Award in Krishnagiri to South India’s Data Quest E Governance Champion crown and even a special mention by former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in his address on Civil Services Day in the capital a few years ago. Now you would imagine that Dr.Santhosh Babu is a workaholic. Guess what, his mantra is not to work hard but to work smart. “I never take work home or home to work” and usually “close my office at 5.45 pm for the day”. Always receptive to new ideas regardless of where it emanates from, Santhosh recalls how he recently implemented his peon’s suggestion to have biometric attendance for the staff in Poompuhar showrooms.
The Civil Services didn’t happen by accident but was deeply ingrained in him as a little boy by his father who was a government Auditor in Kerala. “From Class 5 onwards, I used to read Competition Success Review”, which was basic reading material for candidates who hoped to crack the exam. A voracious reader, Santhosh’s education didn’t stop with his MBBS degree from the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College but continued, while in service with a Master’s in Public Policy Management from the Singapore National University and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Boston, U.S.A and a British Chevening Gurukul Scholarship at the London School Of Economics. Santhosh’s wife – Beena, a Clinical Pathologist now working in Kilpauk Medical College as the Blood Bank Medical Officer, would probably certify that innovation runs in his blood! Or for that matter, even his son Nitin Sathosh, an IT Engineer from Anna University, has been influenced enough to consider public service as a possible career option. For an officer who realizes the importance of “now”, his after work schedule is just as colourful. Badminton (incidentally, I first met him on the shuttle court at the IPS Officers Mess more than a decade ago) and music help him unwind. I love playing the guitar. As I quizzed him further, he remembered even setting up an All Government Orchestra in Krishnagiri where a district judge played the flute, a jail warden was on the tabla and a tahsildar on the keyboard! Soon, he breaks into his favourite Tamil film song: “ Rasathi Unnae Kaanaatha Nenju…” Here’s an officer who dances to his own tunes!
Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7.