Interview | Outgoing sub-collector Renu Raj on the lessons she learned from Munnar

Renu Raj

Devikulam in Kerala's Idukki district has a notorious relationship with its sub-collectors. None of them seem to hold on to the position for long. Almost all officials, who have taken a strong stand against encroachments in Munnar, have been transferred.

The first woman sub-collector in Idukki, Dr Renu Raj IAS, who was transferred recently talks about the lessons she learned from Munnar, in an interview with Manorama.

About the Munnar land mafia

The land grab mafia in Munnar is very strong. People from various walks of life are involved in this. From businessmen, officials, politicians to even those from the film fraternity are part of this unholy nexus. I was also the first woman sub-collector of the Idukki district. Ever since I took charge, various kinds of speculations were being spread. Several people said that I would be immediately shunted out. Some said that a woman official cannot hold on to the post for long. However, I decided to hold on. I was appointed as Devikulam sub-collector, while I was working as the Thrissur sub-collector.

Several people told me that Munnar had only land encroachments. I was determined to find out what else was in store in Munnar. Within two months, I arrived at the answer. Land grab was indeed the biggest problem in Munnar. Land encroachers are like a cancer that has gripped Munnar.

Who are the encroachers?

Most of the encroachers are outsiders who take over the government land in Munnar. Among them, there are businessmen and politicians too. People, who were born and brought up in this land, have little know-how about the law. Outsiders try to impose themselves on such people and turn the tables in their favour. But it is also true that hapless people, who do not have any place of their own, encroach upon one or two cents of land.

Who is acting as an obstacle in implementing the law in Munnar?

The land laws and issues in Munnar are different. People of this land place lot of trust in the officials. It is amusing to note that they sometimes approach the sub-collector to resolve domestic problems. This shows their trust in the authorities. If you have a strong team, you can implement the law in Munnar. There is no need to fear anyone. I am saying this from my own experience. The government has appointed officials to implement the law, and not to back the encroachments or violations.

On controversies, threats, attempts to influence...

I took charge as Devikulam sub-collector on November 19, 2018. I was able to remove over a hundred encroachments in Munnar-Chinnakanal region. I believe that I was able to successfully do the job that the government had entrusted on me. I cannot function in other people's interests. I have not done that till now. I have had difference of opinions with several people, including the politicians. However, there was no threat from anyone. When you take strong decisions, controversies and oppositions are sure to follow. Controversies would take their own course.

What is the reason for the sudden transfer?

Nobody has intervened to get me transferred. I was moved from the sub-collector's post and given a new post. I received the transfer order on Wednesday. I would take charge in the new post next week.

Lessons you learned from Munnar

Normally, an official studies the files and takes decision on what he or she deems to be right. However, officials, who are appointed as Devikulam sub-collectors, have to be extra careful. Those decisions that you deem right and implement can later be questioned. These can even backfire on you. They can be even questioned in a court of law or scrutinised by the media or politicians. You should be extra cautious while taking decisions.

Any disappointments as you exit Devikulam

I was not able to complete some of the missions I had started as Devikulam sub-collector. Some officials tend to just look into files and silently do their jobs. However, my way of functioning is to directly get to know the problems by visiting the areas of trouble. Several people may have a problem with this. The government appoints officials at specific posts with certain expectations. The officials should be able to live up to that.

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