MEN WHO WALK THE RED LINE

Five in­trepid dis­trict col­lec­tors from Nax­alite heart­land live and work with­out the fear of as­sas­si­na­tion or ab­duc­tion

India Today - - NATION - By Su­jay Bhat­tacharyya

{ “Frankly, I was so happy to have made it to the civil ser­vices that I did not worry much about what cadre I got.” }

The threat of ab­duc­tion is a liv­ing re­al­ity. As­sas­si­na­tion is a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity. Ev­ery time they step out of their of­fices or homes, guards or no guards, the IAS of­fi­cers re­spon­si­ble for gov­er­nance in the heart of Nax­alite coun­try know they could be the next Alex Paul Menon or R. Vi­neel Kr­ishna.

Meet the young dis­trict col­lec­tors of the Naxal dis­tricts of Dan­te­wada, Bi­japur, Bas­tar, Malka­n­giri and Ko­ra­put span­ning the Ch­hat­tis­garhOdisha bor­der. Om­prakash Chowd­hary, An­bal­a­gan P., Rajat Kumar, Bal­want Singh and Sachin R. Jha­dav might have come from dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try but they have two things in com­mon— they are all prime Naxal tar­gets and yet they are con­sumed by a mis­sion­ary zeal to bring change to parts of the coun­try still stuck in the bul­lock- cart age.

Take Om­prakash Chowd­hary, 30, the col­lec­tor of Dan­te­wada. OP, as he is called, has found his sur­vival tac­tic: Driv­ing at 100- plus km per hour. “At that speed, Nax­als will not be able to time a land­mine to blow me up,” he says. The 2005- batch IAS of­fi­cer vol­un­teered for a post­ing here af­ter serv­ing seven years in dif­fer­ent parts of Ch­hat­tis­garh. “I am here by choice,” he says. His mis­sion: A 150- acre ed­u­ca­tion hub in Dan­te­wada town.

A last- minute decision to swap cars saved Rajat Kumar his life. The 30year- old col­lec­tor of Bi­japur, a newly formed dis­trict carved out of Dan­te­wada in 2011, was trav­el­ling on April 20 from Bhopal­pat­nam to Bi­japur with the lo­cal MLA Ma­hesh Gagda. They took the first car of the con­voy in­stead of the third. Min­utes af­ter set­ting off, the third car got blown up by a land­mine, killing its three oc­cu­pants. “I would be ly­ing if I said I am never scared work­ing here… but hav­ing worked in this re­gion for three years now, I guess my mind has adapted to the fear,” says the man who has sur­vived four Naxal at­tacks un­til now.

KUMAR ON A VISIT TO PAMED, A NAXAL HOT­BED ON THE CH­HAT­TIS­GARH BOR­DER

One- third of Bi­japur is a Naxal haven and bereft of Gov­ern­ment pres­ence, and it is this zone he wants to bring winds of change to.

An­bal­a­gan P., 33, did not know a word of Hindi when he passed his civil ser­vices exam. As col­lec­tor of Bas­tar, this 2004- batch IAS of­fi­cer now does all his of­fi­cial work in that lan­guage. “Here, all gov­ern­ment work is in Hindi. So I read files, make not­ings, dic­tate let­ters, do ev­ery­thing in Hindi. But you could call my Hindi ‘prasashanic ( ad­min­is­tra­tive)’, since I learnt it from the files,” he says. In Bas­tar, files can go back 100 years. An­bal­a­gan has launched a project scan­ning and digi­tis­ing land records from 1925 on­wards. This, he says, will help set­tle dis­putes over who is a domi­cile and

RAJAT KUMAR IAS batch 2005 Ed­u­ca­tion BA Fam­ily Wife 30 Bi­japur, Ch­hat­tis­garh Pet pas­sions Mu­sic, play­ing cricket

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