CHENNAI’S KNIGHT IN KHAKHI
Untill the recent monsoon fury in Chennai when the social media brought the city together and triggered a flood of amazing volunteering, this platform, for most of us and especially bureaucrats, may have been, at best a tool to take our mind off work pressure. Or to stay in touch with friends. Or for self-aggrandisement, flaunting our achievements and reliving memories. For V. Balakrishnan, IPS, facebook is part of his daily regimen. Not a day passes without the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mylapore, posting a crime prevention tip or enlisting support for a community outreach programme or musings gleaned from his interface with petitioners. This 2003 batch IPS officer’s social media savvy roots can probably be traced to his previous 2 year stint in the Indian Information Service when he worked for All India Radio, Doordarshan and the Press Information Bureau. The previous avatar helps him while giving crisp sound bytes to the electronic media or briefing print journalists with updates that are “news worthy.”
The first graduate in his agricultural family in Kanyakumari, Balakrishnan or ‘Balky’ as his friends call him, came up in life on his own steam. With a post graduation in Agricultural Science, the Gods from the temples of Madurai blessed him with a berth in the Civil Services Examination. The Indian Police Service wasn’t an automatic outcome. First it was in the Indian Information Service, then with the Indian Railway Accounts Service and although Balakrishnan preferred the IAS, what with his mother’s dream of seeing her son as a ‘Collector’, it was his father’s wish that he become an ‘SP’, that eventually happened. “ I was ranked 140 and the first in the IPS list among OBCs. I could have opted for the Indian Foreign Service.” In the end, the IPS was lucky to have got him. “I’ve always wanted to be directly connected to the people.” The IPS has been the most suited platform.
With a mindset that cried out for “proactive rather than reactive policing”, Balakrishnan, followed an inclusive approach wherever he was posted. Illicit liquor was an issue when he was the Superintendent of Police – Thiruvanamalai between 2007 and 09. “We adopted 3 villages and curbed the menace effectively”. In his next posting as the Superintendent of Police – Theni, he found that tribal villages in the hills were in “pathetic conditions”. There was a trust deficit between the tribals and the police in the wake of an encounter. So the young SP decided to “take the police to the villages.” While the tribals were earlier averse to the march of khakhi uniforms to the hills, “we worked hard for almost 6 months to win their confidence and gradually adopted 14 villages.” What did adoption of a village mean? “We provided them basic requirements, even facilitated the issue of ration cards.” These welfare measures helped the police to nip any possible naxal uprising.
(Pic: V.Balakrishnan, IPS, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mylapore, Chennai)
In Tirupur, providing security during the Maha Deepam Festivals was an important task. In 2011, there were flash floods. “I still remember how at about 1 am before going to bed, I made the customary check with the control room and came to know about people being marooned in their homes, many stranded on their roof tops. I led a massive rescue operation with my striking force and managed to recue about 700 people.” Images of grateful residents with folded hands are still fresh in his memory and didn’t need to be revived by the monsoon fury in Chennai this year.
The volatile district of Madurai was bound to be challenging. Balakrishnan has had two postings as the SP here – during the 2009 Parliamentary Poll for a short while and a two year stint from 2012 -14. The unearthing of a granite scam in which about 80 cases were registered. “The case was fought right upto the Supreme Court. The government backed us by engaging the best legal brains in the apex court.” High profile investigations aside, Balakrishnan’s progressive streak came to the fore when he initiated the recruitment of 16 transgenders to the rural wing of the police. Counselling sessions to combat stress for not just the police personnel but also their families was another highlight in his tenure. “The families were usually left out. I made it a point to rope them in.” After all, a cop’s happiness is linked to the mood in his very own home department!
As the Deputy Commissioner of Mylapore, Balakrishnan has been a pioneer of many community policing endeavours, often going well beyond the call of duty. How many officers wade through neck deep water to rescue marooned residents? How many officers host a thanksgiving event in their offices for fishermen who lent their boats for the rescue operations? How many officers spend their little free time to coach poor students in job interview techniques? How many set up libraries in police stations for the benefit of petitioners who may have to unwittingly wait to meet officers held up in different assignments? How many think of enlisting voluntary organisations to provide shelters to beggars? How many officers today post adulatory stuff about their batchmates? (Balakrishnan also often shares information and pictures about the good work of his counterpart DCP Pulianthope Retna Sudhakar) How many take kids from a neighbourhood slum to watch a football match and cheer along with them for Chennaiyin FC? So when he isn’t policing, Balakrishnan spends his time helping the needy. And when he isn’t into his altruistic activities, the soft spoken but tough cop watches movies with his wife Shweta who is an Engineering, MBA and Law graduate. “I used to watch Tamil movies. Now with Shweta by my side, Hollywood flicks are the new norm”.
A few days after the floods, I found that some of my parents’ neighbours in Little Mount who had stayed on by moving to higher floors, were without food and water. I posted a status message on facebook. Within minutes Balakrishnan rustled up essential supplies and sent across a hot breakfast, water and candles to them, many of whom were senior citizens. That was not part of his job description. But going beyond the call of duty is the stuff champions are made of. I salute you, Balky.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)