Eye opening case stories for all who care about good governance

“The View from Kollam”: 
Case Stories for anyone who cares about good governance at the district level

C. Balagopal in his book “The View from Kollam” presents a series of thought provoking “Case Stories” on his life as a junior IAS officer in Kollam. The result is a refreshingly honest yet upbeat insight into “a day in the life of a Sub-Collector.” Each eye-opening chapter in the book addresses a different kind of challenge faced by the young Adminstrator. While there are accounts of disappointments, we also read of many applications of “out of the box” thinking. Largely driven by a well-intentioned belief that solutions are possible and must therefore be sought with a whole heart.

The View from Kollam should be mandatory reading for IAS probationers and those seeking to qualify for the Indian Administrative Services. Despite the cynicism that haunts public life today, these accounts of public service by an outstanding, multifaceted and idealistic individual, have the potential to steer future generations of young people towards a Public Service career.

Chandrasekhar Balagopal’s credentials are noteworthy. To start with the man is a member of what is perhaps India’s most accomplished club. Only 180 out of over 1 million candidates who appeared for the qualifying examinations make it through to the IAS, constituting a success rate of less than .018  percent (2016 data).

At the age of 31, Bala (to his friends) did the unthinkable. He left the rarified regions of the IAS in 1983 to start an entrepreneurial venture in collaboration with the Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute in Trivandrum. Trading in his prestige as an IAS officer for an entrepreneurial struggle in which at least 90 percent of start-ups are known to fail in five years. Fortunately, our hero’s faith in himself was justified as the company he started ends up as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of blood bag systems. A worthy enterprise that  ships its products to over 50 countries and employs over 1,000 people.

So Balagopal’s Avatar as a raconteur is only the latest in a series of gutsy forays into public life, starting with his stint as a young IAS recruit in Manipur (recounted in his first book “On a Clear Day You Can See India”). Then came the subject of our current enquiry, “The View from Kollam” which recounts with great gusto the challenges of holding one’s own as a Sub Collector in Kollam.

Each Case Story in the book describes a different kind of administrative challenge and in many cases the author takes the reader into confidence, providing honest insight into the hard choices available to a well-meaning administrator. Brief descriptions of the first nine case stories (of a total of 18) follow.

  • -         The Case Story of “Jackfruit Mountain” describes a situation in which landowners (who benefited from illegally purchasing land that had been given to landless people) were strong armed into financially supporting remedial action.

  • -         A Case Story titled “The Majesty of the Law” addresses the tendency of lawyers to seek adjournments without providing suitable justification.”

  • -         “Of Divorce and Income Certificates” deals with how Balagopal addressed the delicate subject of couples who opt for administrative divorce (while continuing to live together,) to qualify for educational quotas available to low income families.

  • -         “Choosing the Right Man for the Job” tells the story of selecting the right candidate for the post of Tehsildar, resulted in the overhaul of an entire Revenue District.

  • -         The Case Story “Jamabandhi” provides rare insight into the arcane way the Irrigation Department sometimes acquired funds for projects of dubious provenance and the consequences that ensue.

  • -         “The Cyclone Shelter” presents the story of how an EU Expert was sent to Kerala to build shelters for non-existent cyclones and the way his mission was re-directed into building disaster shelters in school campuses to house people who lose their homes (on account of their homes getting washed away).

  • -         The provocatively titled story “The Exhumation” provides an account of how the disappearance of a missing political operative was investigated.

  • -         “The Homeless and an Antiquated Statute” informs the reader of how the 'Kerala Land Utilization Statute' prevented a poor homeless worker from building a small hut on his own snip of paddy field.

  • -         Balagopal in writing his case story titled “The Place of Worship” recounts the tale in which an armed forces veteran was deprived of his own land by powerful vested religious interests. In so doing the story explains how individual justice can sometimes by subverted even if members of the local administration wanted to do the right thing.

Mr. Balagopal’s belief in the impact of well managed local administration is clear. He introduces “The View from Kollam” with the words, “I believe the high point of a government official’s career is his tenure as a district official…. given the substantial space available for original thought and action at this stage". 

The author goes on to advocate for the posting of senior people in the district as they would be better able to resist the “inevitable efforts to interfere with their functioning. Balagopal with characteristic originality of mind makes the case for stronger district administration, predicting that “better administration, speedier administrative processes and better quality of life for citizens would be dramatic and immediate.”

Anyone who cares about improving local governance would enjoy this little gem of a book! First published by Harper Collins in 2015: 166 pages

Kollam District Administration
Kerala Administration
Creative Administration

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