Discriminated and impoverished, 43 Irula families and released bonded labourers, living in dilapidated homes with mud walls and thatched roofs, in Meesananallur, near Vandavasi in Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu, could have easily slipped back into the quicksand of exploitation. It took a young medical doctor turned IAS officer to rescue them and prevent a relapse.
Barely a couple of years into service at that point, Dr.T.Prabhushankar hit the dusty road running. The Comprehensive Resettlement Programme was the brainchild of this 2013 batch IAS officer and was implemented during his stint as the Sub Collector of Cheyyar between 2015 and 2017. This meant setting up a Smart Colony christened Abdul Kalam Puram,with multiple departments roped in, availing 1.59 Crore under the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group Scheme of the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry, allotment of housing sites, replete with solar power, all basic amenities, milch cows and a Community Centre. Although the novel scheme was beset with challenges – from demonetisation to scarcity of raw materials like sand and cement,it was handheld by Prabhushankar all the way till the finish line. During the last leg of his tenure in Cheyyar, Prabhushankar came up a similar proposal for 100 families of released bonded labourers. 6.5 crore rupees was sanctioned for the project which was later inaugurated by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.
The pathbreaking effort earned him the “Public Justice Champion Award” from the Maharashtra State Commission for Women in 2017. “This was a first of a kind model in India and is being replicated across the country. It has been made a part of the Sate Action Plan for Eradication of Bonded Labour.” That an initiative of this magnitude was beyond the scope and job profile of a Sub Divisional Officer at the time, made it remarkably commendable.
Wherever he has been posted, Prabhushankar has left his mark and empowered people. As the Returning Officer of the Cheyyar constituency in the 2016 Assembly Election, he had a bus converted into a Mobile Election Exhibition to criss cross the entire constituency to spread awareness about polling. The rise in the voter turnout, as a result of this initiative, had passed muster with the then Chief Election Commissioner of India. As the Competent Authority for the issue of Scheduled Tribe certificates, as many as 3500 ST certificates were handed out in Cheyyar and 2500 in Tindivanam to Irulars in his jurisdiction. Students were able to bag scholarships for higher education. The discrimination meted out to 200 Adi Dravidar people by the denial of entry into the village temple in Hariharapakkam village near Vembakkam by the members of the upper caste for 80 years was brought to an end with his intervention. “This remains my most satisfying achievement as it was an opportunity to uphold the Indian Constitution.”
In another early posting as Assistant Secretary in the Union Ministry of Agriculture, Prabhushankar’s report on a Soil Health Card scheme to the Cabinet Secretary was adjudged the ‘Best Presentation’ and the honour was bestowed in the presence of Prime Minister Modi.
The 37 year old officer’s glittering track record has been punctuated by leadership and laurels. Consider these milestones, but before that, take a deep breath! School Pupil Leader at TVS Lakshmi Matriculation School,Madurai, hundreds of prizes in quiz competitions, debates & dramatics, the ‘National Child Award for Exceptional Achievement in General Knowledge 1997’ by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, President of the Students’ Council, Best Outgoing Student at Madurai Medical College, the University Damien Foundation Gold Medal in Leprosy for the year 2005, Gold Medals in Microbiology, Pathology, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Psychiatry & Plastic Surgery, President of the Association of Resident Doctors at PGI Chandigarh, the All India 7th Rank in the Civil Services Exam, ‘Best All Round Trainee’ at the 88th Foundation Course for Officer Trainees and later climbing to the All India 2nd rank while passing out of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy for Administration. Brilliance has been in his DNA!
Before joing the government, Prabhushankar had pursued Community Medicine at the post graduate level, given his penchant for Public Health. “From Non Communicable Diseases, Environmental Health, to AIDS and Polio, I’ve worked closely with senior public health specialists of the country on national health projects and programmes. My dissertation on ‘Health Promoting Schools’ was adopted by the Chandigarh UT Administration in the State Action Plan for Control of Non Communicable Diseases.” After his MD, Prabhushankar joined Chettinad Hospital & Research Institute, Chennai as an Assistant Professor,simultaneously doing a PG Diploma in Family Medicine from CMC, Vellore through Distance Education and also had a clinical practice as a Family physician.
What made this award winning doctor diagnose a better career option for himself in the IAS? The reason is more than convincing. As a doctor, he could heal disease. As an administrator, he can tackle the causative factors like malnutrition and poverty.
Not a spoilt but a free brat, Prabhushankar, the only child to T.Vasanthy,an Economics Graduate from Holy Cross College,Trichy, and a homemaker and B.Thangaraj Gunalan, a Gold Medalist in Zoology and an employee of Bank of India, attributes his success to his parents.”My mother chose to be a homemaker and was my mentor. “Both my parents never forced their wishes upon me and allowed me to pursue things I was passionate about all through my life. For instance, I used to attend inter school cultural events even a month before my 12th Board Exams. I could choose Community Medicine which was not a popular choice and they didn’t raise eyebrows when I set my sights on the civil services examination after completing my post graduation in Medicine.”
Now the Executive Director of the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) Prabhushankar asserts that over the last 3 years, he has “strived hard to ensure the water security of Chennai, improve the sanitation of the city, and make Metro Water a world class utility through Organisational Reforms, along with improving the competence of its engineers, toning up service delivery with a citizen-centric approach.”
The focus has been on “climate resilient options for water supply like Desalination and Reuse and by 2025 with 1150 MLD of water to be drawn from such sources.”
In addition to the 2 existing Desalination Plants at Minjur and Nemili, “2 more plants are coming up at Nemili (150 MLD) and Perur (400 MLD). The 150 MLD plant is under progress and shall be commissioned by 2022, while the latter shall come up by 2024. Ultimately, Chennai would get 750 MLD of water from Desalination, that would constitute more than 50% of the total supply.”
Chennai has been a “pioneer” in Waste Water Reuse through 2 Tertiary Treatment Reverse Osmosis plants of 45 MLD capacity each at Koyambedu and Kodungaiyur, where secondary treated sewage is converted to potable quality water, but is exclusively earmarked for industrial use at the Sriperumbudur and Manali corridors. “Chennai has become the first city in India to reuse 10% of its waste water. It is proposed to augment their capacity by 15 MLD, thereby resulting in an overall treatment capacity of 120 MLD.” The conversion of 360 MLD of secondary treated sewage is to be converted to 260 MLD of potable water. “This project shall also ensure rejuvenation of the lakes. As a pilot, 2 projects of 10 MLD capacity are under progress at Nesapakkam-Porur and Perungudi, which shall be commissioned by January 2021.”
Quarries have been identified with a potential storage capacity of 1 TMC are meant to serve as buffer storage structures for drought mitigation. “13 smaller lakes have been identified as sources of water supply and in the first phase, Modular Water Treatment plants of 10 MLD are being set up at Rettai Eri, Ayanambakkam and Perumbakkam lakes.”
A renewed focus on Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) is on and a drive to renovate household structures has been undertaken.
Prabhushankar was “at the forefront of managing the historic drought of 2019 which was due to a 193 day long dry spell, which resulted in all the reservoirs in Chennai running dry. Even without a drop of water, we managed to supply 525 MLD of water throughout the drought period. This was possible through source augmentation measures like Hiring Agricultural Borewells, Drawing water from quarries and smaller lakes like Rettai Eri and water from Jolarpet through Rail wagons and measures for efficient water distribution like deployment of as much as 12,500 trips of water tankers, introduction of 2KL and 3 KL water tankers to supply narrow lanes, installation of 12000 HDPE Storage tanks and 4500 India Mark II pumps”. ‘Water to everyone’ was the goal.
On the sanitation front, “Rs.2371 crore has been sanctioned for restoration of the Buckingham Canal and sewerage infrastructure strengthening. In addition to the existing Sewage Treatment plants (STPs) in Chennai with a treatment capacity of 727 MLD, new STPs have been set up at Sholinganallur and Tiruvottiyur. In the 42 added areas, Underground sewerage schemes in 25 areas are being implemented. We are also procuring 50 sewer lorries for providing desludging services to citizens at subsidized rates.”
Heralding organisation reforms such as GIS Mapping of the entire water supply and sewerage network, Smart Metering of water intensive and commercial consumers, rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers, setting up Solar parks in Metro Water lands, setting up of a state of the art NABL accredited Water Quality Analysis Lab, ‘Azhaithal Inaippu’ – through which a citizen can get a sewer connection at his door step within 15 days by just a phone call or registering online with payment in 10 easy installments, Dial for Water 2.0 for booking a water tanker in Chennai, ‘Project Vasantham’ to ensure odourless sewage pumping stations across the city.
Awards have been pouring in. Like the Skoch Award Gold for E-governance 2020 for Dial for Water 2.0, the National Water Innovation Award 2020 by Jal Shakti Ministry, Israel Embassy and Elets Media for Conversion of Abandoned Mining Quarries into Storage Reservoirs, HUDCO Award 2019 for Best practices to improve the Living Environment.
How does he plan to expedite water & drainage connections for the OMR corridor, where residents pay water tax but have no connections? “The city was expanded from 176 sq.km to 426 sq.km in 2011, which was more than double the original extent and 42 urban local bodies were annexed with the erstwhile Corporation of Chennai.” Admitting that it is “a matter of deep regret”, the Executive Director explains that land is needed for various installations like Distribution & Sewage Pumping stations. “It gets difficult to execute works in the southern part which has a rocky strata. Unfortunately most contractors who had taken up the work had become insolvent severely impacting the execution and most works have been re-tendered. But then efforts are underway to ensure the whole city comes under the water and sewer network by 2025. There is a common misconception about Water Tax. It is only the Metro Water component of the Property Tax. One has to pay water or sewer charges only when they have a connection.”
A movie buff, Prabhushankar makes it a point to catch a flick every weekend with his wife Dr.Naveena, a general surgeon at the Govt. Omandurar Medical College & Hospital and his kindergarten daughter Yazhini Vasanthi. The young officer loves to “strum my way out of stress” with the guitar, or strokes at the tennis court in pre -covid times. “When you have a little daughter, it is always a blessing to come back every day and hug her. I am also her play companion and there is no better way to unwind than putting your kid to sleep on your chest.” In the hot seat, Prabhushankar has miles to go before he sleeps.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)