Attending an interaction with college students soon after coming second in the Union Public Service Commission exam, Renu Raj made clear her agenda. The young doctor was asked if she would be able to withstand the influence of politics, power and money in her career as an IAS officer.
Renu Raj replied without batting an eye: "Practising as a doctor in a private hospital would have been more profitable if I was after money. My challenge is to stand by the system and yet stick to my personal convictions. I harbour no notion of changing society overnight. All I can say is that no one will have to come to me twice if he had a just demand."
She has stood by her words. She has refused to buck under pressure on the line of duty. She was prevented from doing her duty as the Devikulam sub collector and a people's representative even said that she “lacked brain”.
Young officers such as Renu Raj and Chaitra Teresa John, the IPS officer who stirred a hornets' nest by raiding the district committee office of the ruling CPM in Thiruvananthapuram, are acting as the standard bearers of a new breed of public servants led by a sense of duty.
Renu Raj had an unenviable briefing when she was appointed as sub collector at Devikulam in November. The hilly area that includes the touristy Munnar has been in the news for wanton encroachment of public land and forests. As many as 14 sub collectors have worked in various parts of the Idukki district in the past eight years. No officer who dared to lift a finger against the encroachers could hope to stay on, thanks to the political clout enjoyed by landgrabbers. A sub collector was moved after just five days into his stint.
The establishment, however, could not show Renu her place. She preferred honest work to a safe stay in Munnar. She went ahead with a report on illegal constructions in the area. The report, scheduled to be submitted to the Kerala High Court on Wednesday, is sure to raise hackles.
The immediate trigger was an action to stop work on an industrial centre being coming up by the Muthirapuzha River without the revenue department's permission. While the local leaders lined up against the sub collector, the people and the media came out in solidarity. The legislator, S Rajendran, found himself isolated even within his party and expressed regret over his outbursts.
Idukki was a different experience for Renu Raj, who has worked in various parts of Ernakulam and Thrissur districts. Yet the first woman sub collector in the district has achieved many of her male counterparts could not.
Renu Raj's fearless work reminds us of T V Anupama, whose report as the Alappuzha collector led to the resignation of businessman-politician Thomas Chandy from the state cabinet. Anupama completed the work started by her predecessor and submitted a report that the minister had encroached public land for his resort.
Anupama had already made a mark as the food safety commissioner of the state. As the dust settled on the Chandy affair, she was transferred to Thrissur. Chandy pursued the case in the high court but he was pulled up by the court last week for withdrawing his pleas to cancel the cases against him.
Anupama, Chaitra Teresa John and Renu Raj have the same message to offer to society. Upright officers are more concerned about their work than their office. It is hard to shout them down because they draw their energy from civil society.