Indeed, it is such a pleasure to know and write about IAS officers who are doing great jobs within and outside their job purview. Born to a District Transport Officer and a home maker in Kottayam, Kerala, is Dr. Renu Raj, IAS, 2015 batch. Within these three years the whole of Kerala is in awe, as we are too, for the extraordinary accomplishments by her to the people. An excellent student at school, after completing CLASS 12, at Thrissur, joined the Medical College at Kottayam. As she was doing her internship, one day she was awakened to her childhood dream, that as she gets to see lots of patients in hospital, their ailments, treatments, she wanted to see, do, more for them beyond the confines of a hospital, as to the quality of life that they lead, background, living conditions, access to basic rights and what she can do for them to improve their quality of life.

Hence the beckoning, to become an IAS, as she can do a lot for them as a civil servant. Between the conflict of interest, of mind and heart, she listened to her heart. After completing her internship, she shifted to Thiruvananthapuram, where she threw herself into preparation for UPSC exam, for one year, while working part-time as a doctor until the main results came. While reminiscing about the preparation for both prelims and mains together, she was as confused as a beginner aspirant, with all the materials for preparation all over the place. She didn’t stress herself too much as far the results were concerned, as she already had a medical career to fall back on. She had her eyes set on the goals, gave her best. She was unsure at first about clearing the exam in the first attempt, which made her register for second attempt, but when the results came she was in for a mammoth surprise, because she had made national headlines with an ALL INDIA RANK # 2 in 2015. She recollects her parents unstinted support who have stood beside her like big pillars, in her decision to write the exams, for that reason they even shifted to Thiruvananthapuram so that when she prepares for her exams she wouldn’t lose focus, deprived for good food and accommodation issues.

With her initial training in Kochi for ten months, before the Academy training at Mussoorie, her first independent posting was in Thrissur. Here she saw the plight of the senior citizens who are double the population in the state, in comparison to the national average. In the initial days she got to see 30-40 cases a month, children abandoning their parents at old age homes, hospitals and temples. What she did to solve the issue, despite the existence of the Senior Citizen Maintenance Act of 2008 is unique in its own way. She created a group of 10 conciliation officers, from different walks of life, like retired Government Officers, educationalists, who volunteered to mediate between the broken families, convincing their children to take their parents back home. To ensure their grievances are addressed to, considering their age and health issues, she ensured that there was a room in the ground floor with conciliation officers because the building had no lift service. This was to enable the elders from climbing the stairs.

When she got an information that an unlicensed old age home in Thrissur city was extorting money from the old people to the tune of Rs. 20000/- per month and non-refundable deposits were collected to the tune of 2.5 to 3 lakhs, without any receipts, she led a raid on the home. To her dismay and chagrin, she found that these elderly people were locked up inside a room. They were bedridden, suffering from dementia, not given proper food. When she conducted the raid she found there were one male and 2 females, two of whom didn’t have any proper documents. She rescued them and sealed the home. Then the elderly were sent to a Government-run facility. The important follow up, was the children of these elderly were traced made to come from abroad and convinced them, to take their parent/s home. She said, “they didn’t have to fight or argue with the children of elders, they simply explained to them that instead of spending money for their care at an old age home, they could take them home, pay the same money to a care taker and they can also be ensconced in home atmosphere for their comfort and safety. The elderly people were moved and thanked them and it was a very emotional moment”. Its worthy of mentioning that, under her tenure a mega medical camp was conducted with collaboration with Amruta Hospitals, which ensured that 2000 senior citizens got treated on the spot and 250 free surgeries were also conducted later.

The illegal quarry raid in December 2017, brought her to limelight and people noted her for her capability and immense guts. When Dr. Renu, was Sub-Collector Thrissur, she received an anonymous call saying that there is illegal mining happening in hilly place of Thrissur. When she asked the caller to give it in writing, they refused point blank as they were scared of repercussions. The next day early morning at 4AM, she and her team reached the said area, they saw there were 7 lorries carrying granite stones. They stopped the lorries and interrogated the drivers and before the befuddled drivers could react by contacting their owners, to stop sending more lorries that way, the team seized their respective phones and keys. Police officials were called to keep an eye on the seized vehicles. Following the directions, they found more heavy duty vehicles, they seized the trucks and kept policemen and revenue officials at the spot to ensure that none of them could escape. The real shock was, generally quarries have the same entrance and exit which is a single point, once entered it’s a vast space, when one gets trapped it’s difficult to exit, as its close to water bodies. When they reached the quarry after a 10 minutes climb they saw two people, who were trying to escape from the other side where some red flags were set. Smelling something fishy they ran to that area and found explosives, mining equipment, excavators, jackhammers all set for explosion for more granite stones. Immediately they chased the men but they ran away. Police were notified, bomb squad were alerted so that the bombs don’t detonate, the quarry was shut down. The quarry belonged to the family of a known Panchayat President who was also the leader of a political party.

When asked, about repercussions of these actions she said. “she was told that there would be problems, not just the political pressure, but the owners of the quarries were all financially powerful people. She found that once an officer proves that he or she is credible, nobody dares to threaten them directly. She expected repercussions, but nothing happened, it reinstated the faith in the system for her”. She added on, “When we are outside the system, we often think it’s easy for the bureaucrats to do whatever they want to do, leverage their power or make changes. While it is true that one can bring about change, one also needs to understand that they are entering a system, that has been in existence for years, change happens by only following a procedure. The concept that everything changes at the snap of a finger is not true, it requires a lot of work and focus”. She continued, “When one comes to a very responsible position at a very young age, the position that one stands in, demands maturity and responsibility beyond one’s age”.

Currently, she has taken charge of Devikulam (Munnar), the first woman officer ever, to be posted in the area, focused on two problem areas, in the district for which she has planned for a twin approach. The illegal encroachments and constructions will be one she will look into, the other being social issues of the tea plantation workers. Many of these workers struggle with employment, have no land or basic education. There are several tribal hamlets in that area too.  When she cracks down the illegal encroachments she will be able to reclaim government land and give it to the marginalised communities, who need them the most. She also wants to work for the development of women, children, a sector that gets overlooked due to other existing issues.

Dr. Renu Raj, we applaud you, admire your guts, may your journey continue to help those needy people. you have reposed trust, faith, belief, of people by your actions.  HATS OFF!! KUDOS!!