Doctor-turned-IAS officer E. Ramesh Kumar is a workaholic. In charge of Sagar district in Madhya Pradesh, he feels that his job is a godsend to help people. ‘'I feel bad if somebody goes unhappy after meeting me; I try to help him in every possible manner,” says Ramesh, who gifted a sapling each to all petitioners who met him during the monsoon season when he was district collector of Khargone.
Ramesh was born in a middle class family of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. His father worked for the Railways and his mother was a Port Trust employee. He studied in Korukonda Sainik School and Andhra Medical College. Says Ramesh: “There was no other option before me. As my elder brother chose to become an engineer, my father asked me to become a doctor in order to guarantee a secure future before going in for the civil services exam.”
A strict disciplinarian, Ramesh does not claim to be an extraordinary bureaucrat. Instead, he believes in implementing routine development schemes extraordinarily. “It is in the implementation that the crux of all development scheme lies,” he says. He was first posted in the tribal-dominated Dindori district in MP and then in Khargone. He devised strategies to converge differentgovernment schemes for deprived people to bring a change to their lives.
When he was collector of Chhatarpur in the Bundelkhand region, he realised that young men were migrating as construction labourers because they were unskilled. With support from Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (ILFS) he started a residential coaching school where the youth were taught basic skills to find jobs in the textile industry. “In order to make boys straightaway employable, we got people from the industry to train them in specific jobs in a simulative atmosphere,” says Ramesh. “While we got them three months' training [free for poor and heavily subsidised for others], our people tied up with industries around Indore to arrange for their jobs. Since the manpower we offered them was specifically trained as per their requirement, they readily offered jobs.'' So far, 865 boys have landed jobs.
In May this year, when Ramesh was transferred to Sagar district, he replicated the initiative with some improvisation. He noticed that though Sagar was the headquarters of an infantry division, very few local people had Army jobs. “One of the reasons for the development of Punjab and Haryana was that people joined the Army and paramilitary forces. Those jobs gave a fixed income to their families while others freely engaged in agricultural activities.... Over the years, Punjab, which used to supply jawans, has taken a back seat and I feel that regions like Bundelkhand can substitute it if a proper environment is created among the youth.” In order to train the youth for the armed forces, he started the Shourya Sankalp project. Says Ramesh: “We take youth in the age group of 17 - 23. Those belonging to scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and below poverty line segments get free training while others have to pay for the food, which roughly comes around Rs:1,500 per month.”
During the three-month course, they are trained in English, mathematics, general knowledge and reasoning. Plus, they have weekly tests, and two hours each of physical training and games every day. “I have specially introduced a capsule of personality development which these boys severely need, as most of them come from a rural background,” says Ramesh, who used his clout to persuade the municipal corporation, health, education and tribal departments to contribute their expertise and share the expenses of the training programme.
Out of 124 youth who were trained, 69 participated in an Army recruitment camp and 42 cleared the physical test. “One of them was selected as a cook when he prepared a good omelette and gajar halwa,"says Ramesh. “After this we have decided to introduce training for various categories like barber, cook, driver and sweeper, where chances of getting selected are much higher.” According to Ramesh, “One poverty alleviation scheme cannot change lives of the poor. It has to be in a complete sense. I always target a few families instead of going after the whole village and then saturate them with all schemes in order to pull them out of the poverty web."
Ramesh knows how to make use of his clout as district collector. When he was in Khargone, the local Rotary Club invited him for an investiture ceremony. He told them that he would oblige provided they sponsored the surgeries of a dozen poor children with congenital heart defects. “I sponsored their stay and travel while the hospital expenses were borne by the Rotary Club and the wealthy people of the district,” he says. “I always do things from the available government resources so that these initiatives have sustainability and are institutionalised. That is why I believe in bringing all government schemes together,” says Ramesh. “I have learnt a lot from the field experience as an administrator.'' Probably, that was why he was invited to give a talk at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, where IAS officers are trained.