A rainy day on the water-bound Fort Kochi is nothing short of spectacular. This is a view one must witness at least once in their lifetime. On such day I had the privilege to meet up with the Sub-Collector of Ernakulam District, Mr. Suhas S at the Collector’s office. It was well past his office hours and he was still in his office attending to the common man. There were many still waiting for their turn. Though with an appointment, I still waited, because for him common man comes first. This time, I wouldn’t mind at all. For one, this was the most serene and beautiful place on earth. You can see the beach from the verandas of this beautiful building, which I’m guessing is Dutch architecture. And then you have the rain drizzling with a nice gentle breeze to go with it. It was also that time of the day when the sun takes a dive under the sea. You see, it was a priceless moment. I’m jealous of the Sub-Collector for one more reason now. He gets to have this in most days.
One thing I learned from my conversation with those localities who were waiting to see him were, Kochi is really possessive of this Sub-Collector. They think of him as one of their own. Some of them didn’t even realize he’s not a Malayali. Suhas is the first one to take action whenever the locals there face a problem of drinking water supply or housing problem. His solutions for their problems are quick and pleasing for all. He is a very patient listener and thoughtful in decision-making from what they are telling me. Suhas is a product of PESIT Bengaluru and graduated in Electronic Engineering. Having scored good marks in GRE, he had the opening to do MS in Maryland University and the University of California. He also received campus placement from Accenture. But he chose for Civil Service which he passed in 2012 in the first attempt and his first posting was in Ernakulam as Assistant Collector. His father C. K. Shivanna is in the Indian Forest Service and is serving as the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in Karnataka. His wife, Vaishnavi, is a doctor. Vaishnavi’s father, Rama Gowda, is also an IAS officer who is the Transport Commissioner in Karnataka.
Suhas is pretty much active on Facebook and is quite a blogger. He keeps a constant check on these and addresses all his followers regularly. One can also see how much he loves Kerala cuisine also on his page. But that is not all that he likes of this place. It can be seen that the culture of God’s own Country has influenced him a lot, and one wonders if he thinks of this place as his home away from home.
He gives prompt advises and information through social media to all his followers. He is easily available and will respond to your queries at his free times. He is quick to acknowledge any progress of the district and cheers along any ongoing event with great interest. It was finally my turn to meet the man. Sitting behind a large desk, he welcomed me and offered me a seat. He offered a glass of green tea, which I had to turn down as I was fasting. “I was not supposed to be here at the office today.
But there were so many who wanted to meet me,” he said. This proved me further how much the common man has influenced his compassion. Then an assistant came in with some files, and Suhas responded to him in Malayalam. Now I understood why many mistook him for a Malayali. He probably speaks the language better than you and me. After carefully going through each paper and signing them, he turned to me, but that was again interrupted by a phone call. It was a dinner invitation. “I get so much of these dinner invitations,” he told me. “I have to be there in all because it gives me one more opportunity to address any issue to the superiors inperson.” Even a dinner meet for him is all about work—the kind of work that will benefit the citizens of this district. Time was not a luxury the Sub-Collector had. But he gave us a word to do an interview. So we squeezed in some time, and I finally got to ask him few questions. Tell us about your formative days.
How was it like growing up? Where do you hail from?
I am from Bangalore. Since my father is in Indian forest Service, we had to hop from one place to another, whenever he used to get transferred. My parents encouraged me to read lots of books as well as to take in as many outdoor sports or games. Their emphasis was to develop me into a balanced individual. I was fortunate to have studied in some of the best schools as well as have had good teachers. This helped to be who I am today.
Did you always wish to be a Collector? What inspired you?
My parents, especially my father is the sole reason, I am in the services today. They encouraged me to be a public servant since my childhood. Slowly, learning more about civil services helped me to take the call. I believe no other profession gives such a broader canvas for me to serve the public and make a difference. You are also an Electronics Engineer.
Were you always passionate in engineering?
I always had an analytical bent of mind. So engineering was an obvious choice for graduation. But I never thought of it as a career. Though I got a campus placement and also a scholarship offer from the US, I chose civil service which was my first love.
Something about your college days?
College days were fun, carefree days which I long for now. Friendship made during that time have stood a test of time.
Why do you think Tourism in Kerala has not yet delivered to its full potential?
Tourism will continue to hold a critical place of prominence in Kerala’s economy (10%GSDP). Usually, tourists have an average stay of 15 nights per visit. However, apart from focusing on traditional tourism, we should expand in other niches as well. We are already doing really well in Medical Tourism. Ayurveda and Yoga are to be fully tapped. tourism is another which needs to fully exploit. Already art lovers are coming in droves to attend Kochi Muziris Biennale . I was closely associated with them last year. You give a lot of significance to technology. All your officers use a laptop.
Your comments on that?
My suggestion, one word, ‘Automation’. The idea that good governance means the minimum government is very valid. By use of technology, systems can be simplified, transparent, and deterrent to defaulters. A classic example would be any standard procedure at a government office. People sometimes accuse officials of charging bribes for forwarding files to the next level. Automate that you submit your file online, and the system processes and transfers it.
Do you miss those days in Mussoorie?
IAS Training Facility in Mussoorie is like heaven on earth. It’s the place where leaders are made. Its undoubtedly a dream for every civil service aspirant to get into the academy some day. It was a place where I experienced my many, ‘firsts.’ I will cherish those moments. Earlier this year, you won an award for Smart City IT project Kochi.
A few words on that?
Kochi has huge potential to become an IT giant. Nice climate, a peaceful atmosphere, a wholly literate population, easy availability of educated workforce. And unlike manufacturing that needs a large investment in land, machinery, infrastructure, IT, on the other hand, needs a decent building, good connectivity, and availability of talented professionals. Kochi is ideal for it.
How is it like being the Sub-Collector of Kochi?
Queen of Arabian sea as it is rightly said, Kochi is indeed a great place to serve in. It welcomed me with open arms and brought out the best in me. I am in love with the people, the greenery, silence, solitude, the sea and in a totally different way.
What is your greatest contribution to this city?
I want to sum it up in one line, by the grace of god, I was given the opportunity and freedom to innovate, impact and improve the lives of at least of a few common citizens in the district.
What seems to be the one major challenge that this district is facing today?
Ernakulam district is forced with unusual scenario today whereby high unemployment rate consists with a labour shortage. It is also linked to migration from rural areas to the gulf region. Further, the inflow of remittances has resulted in economic activities resulting in demand for casual labor. With the labor shortage, the labor cost is very high, resulting in demand-supply mismatch. This has resulted in the huge migration of casual laborers from North East and Eastern India. They are unregulated and I believe it will lead to a lot of problems in the district in near future unless we take some action.