The difference between death and survival in a natural calamity often hinges on miracles. In these tragic times, rescue teams represent nothing short of the hand of God. Bang in the middle of such noble work has been an IPS officer from the Tamil Nadu cadre. On deputation with the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi since 2012, Sandeep Rai Rathore, the Inspector General of Police of the National Disaster Response Force & Civil Defence (NDRF) has been working with missionary zeal. Whether it was at Kedarnath post the Uttarakhand flash floods or the cyclones that ravaged Odisha and later Vishakapatnam or the Mugalivakkam building collapse in Chennai or the Nepal earthquake,Sandeep could been seen on ground zero monitoring rescue operations as his teams raced against time to reach “the most inaccessible terrain, hunting for survivors on foot or using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and even winching them into helicopters”. Thousands of pilgrims and other survivors from a spate of tragedies owe their lives to this 1992 batch IPS officer who recently earned the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service.
Having spent his early years in Kuwait where his late father was posted during his stint with Engineering Projects India Ltd, Sandeep would visit India only during summer vacations where he witnessed the contrast between urban developing societies and the rural world. “The idea of Rural India was very close to my heart” A few relatives who were also in government service were an additional influence and strengthened his passion for a career in public service. “My parents were keen that I study Engineering. Although I took Science in Class 12, I deliberately under performed in my exams. I still got admission for Engineering Courses in two US Universities. But I joined Kirori Mal College in Delhi.” Sandeep got into the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) but preferred the Indian Police Service (IPS) instead.
Sandeep has had a fair share of district and city postings – as Superintendent of Police in Dindigul, Tuticorin & CB CID in Chennai, Deputy Commissioner of Police in Coimbatore, Deputy Commissioner of Police – Crime & Traffic in North Chennai, Joint Commissioner of Police, Central Chennai & Headquarters, Deputy Inspector General of Police in Salem and so on. Not only has he gained experience in all three wings – Law & Order, Crime & Traffic, Sandeep has also served as Commandant in Tihar Jail, did a one year stint with the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission in Bosnia and has been the Deputy Inspector General of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) in charge of Airport security in North India & the Delhi Metro Rail before his current posting with the NDRF.
Ask him about his big professional milestones and Coimbatore tops the list. “When the Coimbatore serial blasts took place in 1998, I was the Deputy Commissioner of Police. I led a team straight to the hideouts of the culprits and managed to catch three of them alive. That’s how the case was cracked.” In 2004, when he was posted as SP Tuticorin, Sandeep ensured that it became the country’s first ISO Certified district. “I worked towards transforming the police into a public service provider of security. We digitised records, went to the doorsteps of the public and made our officers set their own targets. We got our certification in one and a half months.” But the most recent achievements have been not in khakhi but in his NDRF blue uniform. “The force was formed only in 2009. I joined three years later. It was quite a shift from being a law enforcer to a rescuer. In almost all our operations, we had to be air dropped.” In this three year stint, “the focus has also been on Vulnerability Profiling of India, from earthquake prone zones to cyclones, floods, sea erosion and fire accidents.”
Men of action are expected to fall in love! Sandeep has been no exception, having married his college sweetheart Shilpam, a former airhostess with Cathay Pacific and now an expert in art. “The Tanjore Paintings that adorn our walls at home are all the handiwork of my gorgeous and charming better half. She is trained in Indian Art and also knows Italian and French. Wherever I am posted, she makes it a point to pursue her passion.” The Rathores have a sixteen year old daughter Enya who is a National level
Rifle Shooting champion and a twelve year old son Arnav, a soccer fan “who wants to play for Barcelona!” Sandeep is an ace badminton player and has run three half marathons in Delhi. “My aim is to complete a full marathon before I turn fifty.” That may probably happen a little earlier and in Chennai as he is due to complete his deputation next year and return to the Tamil Nadu cadre. And he has his friend and senior Jayant Murali for inspiration. For now, post dinner conversations with Shilpam are rounded off with a game of scrabble. What’s the word that best describes this officer? My guess is ‘braveheart’.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)