‘Tell me what your typical day is like and I’ll tell you what kind of an officer you are.’ This could well be a new yardstick to pick out proactive bureaucrats. So when Tamil Nadu’s Transport Commissioner is busy the whole day, not in his plush office pushing files, but criss-crossing schools forming Road Safety Clubs, you get the message. Change comes to a department not just with a new posting but a fresh attitude. And zeal.
Hitting the road running, T.S. Jawahar, IAS, is racing against time and is on a mission to reduce fatal road accidents in Tamil Nadu,which has had the dubious distinction of figuring among the top 3 ranks in the country, with an unenviable 17,000 fatal accidents in 2016. Mercifully,it dropped to 10,000 last year. Under directions of the Supreme Court to aim to halve this alarming statistic by the end of 2020, this senior IAS officer has set the highest benchmark – zero fatal road accidents by 2030. That may be 5 years after his retirement but the bugle has been sounded.
How? “Awareness”. Isn’t that a cliche? “Yes but it’s both a challenge and an opportunity. Tamil Nadu has almost two and a half crore 2 wheelers and forty five lakh 4 wheelers, the second highest after Maharashtra. Our total road length is 1 lakh kilometres,with highways alone accounting for sixty thousand kilometres. The most vulnerable age group is between 18 to 40 years. Often “accompanied by Inspector General of Police (Traffic Planning & Road Safety) Pramod Kumar, we tell young students in educational institutions that if they ride 2 wheelers at a speed of more than 25 kmph without wearing a helmet, there is a 90% chance of meeting with a fatal accident.”
Everytime we encounter reckless motorists who overtake from the left, drive on the wrong side of the road, honk with the signal still red and overspeed, we often wonder how on earth they got a driving licence. The presence of touts, nexus between driving schools and Road Transport Officers (RTOs) can make driving tests a farce. This1990 batch IAS officer is in the process of having CCTV cameras fixed in all RTOs to monitor their functioning. “A normal driving licence test should take about half an hour. If an applicant walks out much earlier,our antenna will go up.” Minimising human interface, which can breed corruption, is the new buzzword. “In Karur,we introduced the Electronic Driving Test with computers. We have World Bank assistance to replicate this across the State.” The no nonsense top bureaucrat reveals that a tough syllabus for driving tests will soon be in place. Repeated violators will have their licences cancelled. “Last year, more than a lakh licences were cancelled.”
Bad roads and design flaws are another culprit. Jawahar is indentifying accident prone areas or black spots and is working towards addressing engineering issues. “Software Professionals who commute long distances to work and bus drivers are on our radar for sensitisation programmes.”
The Golden Hour to save accident victims is another priority. “As of now, a call to 108 will result in an Ambulance arriving at the spot in 12 to 16 minutes, with an average response time of 14 minutes. We are trying to reduce this, as well as exploring ways to rope in Private Ambulances for SOS calls.” Despite manpower shortage, a common grouse in the government, “we have been using technology to conduct enforcement drives. In one month,we recently collected fines to the tune of 9.5 crore rupees online.”
While Road Safety measures in his present avatar are a work in progress, Jawahar’s path breaking initiatives are often recalled during his 3 year and 3 month innings as the Principal Secretary & Commissioner – Treasuries & Accounts. In 2016,after returning to Tamil Nadu from his deputation in Delhi. “I focussed on an Integrated Financial & Human Resources Management System (IFHRMS).What used to take 18 days to prepare, process and credit salary bills of 9 lakh government employees, was implemented in Karur in an hour and a half,with a maximum of one day. We had conducted 67 Conferences, where 1500 officials were trained in each conference in drawing and disbursement.”
A year and a half post the tsunami,which ravaged Nagapatinnam and Cuddalore districts, the soft spoken officer took over the reins of the Nagapattinam district administration. As its Collector from 2006 to 2008, Jawahar handled the massive rehabilitation efforts, largely away from the camera glare.
Even when he was in the hot seat on deputation, for 13 months as the Private Secretary to the then Union Minister for Law, Justice, Company Affairs & Surface Transport Dr.M.Thambidurai, Jawahar kept a low profile. Later, a seven year deputation stint – from 2009 to 2013 as the Director in the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation and from 2013 to 2016 as the Senior Deputy Director General (Administration & Vigilance) in the Indian Council of Medical Research was a home coming of sorts.
Although Jawahar was born in Tirunelveli, he was brought up and educated in the national capital. The Delhi environment seemed to have augured well for his career in public service. “My maternal grandfather John Devasahayam was a Tahsildar. My father T.P. Subramaniam served the Government of India and retired as a Joint Secretary in 1989 and my mother Sarojini was a school teacher. I was always enamoured by the opportunity to make a difference, rather than the perks, power and pelf of office.” After an Electronics Engineering Degree from the Delhi College of Engineering and a two year cameo at the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited as a Design Engineer, Jawahar, given his “flair for writing” chose History & Anthropology for the Civil Services Examination,which he cleared in his second attempt.
Whether it was a district posting at Kanchipuram or as Joint Secretary in the powerful Home Department or Land Administration or Backward Classes or the coveted Chief Minister’s Office, Jawahar has always put people first. “I am here to serve and not keep citizens waiting outside my office. I have always been open to suggestions.”
Work may be worship for this affable officer. But when he gets a break, he goes “temple hopping” and has undertaken a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash in 2010. “I love to visit holy places – be it the Velankanni Shrine or the Nagoore Dargah.” With his wife Chitra a Financial Analyst, Jawahar is happy to entrust her with the family’s money matters. Their son Pavan who graduated in Commerce from Christ University is now into Artificial Intelligence at Great Lakes Institute. The home front could well generate novel ideas at the work place.
But for now, the accent is on getting the police, highways and health departments to share his ‘never say die’ spirit. For our roads.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)