PB Nooh came to Pathanamthitta as a cool guy without any baggage. But when he leaves the district on Monday, there'll certainly be many memories weighing him down.
The same is the feeling in the district which is bidding goodbye to Nooh with a heavy heart. It will be rare for a Collector to experience such an emotionally charged farewell.
Nooh has just one more day to go as Collector of Pathanamthitta. He will hand over the charge and move to the Cooperative Registrar’s Office in Jagathy, Thiruvananthapuram.
When he arrived in Pathanamthitta there were no big aspirations in the mind of the new Collector or among the people of the district. The district at that time was akin to a silently flowing river. What am I going to do here? That was the first question that came across his mind as he spent some lazy days in the initial stage. Well, nobody thought that this lull was before the devastating floods of the century.
August 14, 2018: What began as a partial rain soon turned into heavy rainfall. In no time, it triggered floods in the district, the worst floods experienced by the state in a hundred years. The entire state came to a standstill. It was a war-like situation. The collector sprung into action. Though the floods caused huge devastation to property, it didn’t result in loss of lives as expected. Soon the focus from rescue operations shifted to rehabilitation.
Before the ration shop kits for the affected families could become a reality, the ration kits provided by the collector were the talk of the town. The youth came out in large numbers as volunteers to help the affected people. At that time Nooh had just the experience of witnessing the floodwaters from the bridge in Muvattupuzha which is his birthplace. But today, he enjoys the will power to face devastating floods all alone.
From the huge devastation caused by the floods, Nooh went straight into the battlefield that emerged following the Supreme Court verdict allowing entry of young women in Sabarimala.
The Collector maintained the required calm and restraint in handling such an emotional issue. Prohibitory orders were imposed one after the other to prevent untoward incidents and violence. The mandala pilgrimage season went off without any major issues.
Lok Sabha polls
The Sabarimala controversy was immediately followed by Lok Sabha polls in 2019. By then Nooh had gained some experience as a Collector. But soon the second floods ravaged the state.
With the district administration having taken preventive steps and adopted effective safety strategies, it was easy to handle the situation.
The second floods were followed by the Konni by-election. Now things were slowly coming back on the tracks. At this stage, one felt that the exhausting days and tiring days are over. But there were many challenges in store for the Collector.
COVID knocks on the door
While returning to his native place Muvattupuzha after receiving the best Collector’s award, Nooh got the shocking news over the phone. Though for a moment he thought he was returning to his sweet home with the dream of having some relaxation after such a hectic schedule, fate had something else in store for him.
Nooh confirmed what he had heard over the phone. The first COVID case in the second leg was reported from Ranni in Pathanamthitta district. That too five people were infected.
Thus began the phase of sleepless nights again for the Collector. It was Pathanamthitta district which began the model of COVID prevention activities.
The Pathanamthitta model of creating a route map of COVID patients created a lot of buzz. The entire state of Kerala and even the country emulated the model later to deal with COVID cases.
As witnessed during the floods, an army of volunteers camped at the Collectorate to meet the COVID challenge.
Do you feel like saying goodbye to Pathanamthitta?
I can say placing my hand on my heart that it is really painful and sad. I don’t think I could have performed in this manner in any other place. The people of Pathamanthitta were with me and they extended their unflinching support. The return from Pathanamthitta is a big loss for me individually and professionally.
When work pressure increased, I would go out of the office, speak to the people who I come across. Such interactions used to relieve me of my tension and prompt me to get back to work. I never had such a close association with people even in my native place Muvattupuzha.
What will you miss the most?
The path I used to take to my office daily. I used to walk back from the office in the evenings. I met people on the way, exchanged pleasantries with them. The evening walk. The entire day’s work pressure used to get released by the time I reached home. I can never forget this experience.
What are the good memories?
I celebrated Onam in Ezhikkad colony during the 2018 floods. After that, I did not have any festivities or celebrations. I just took annual leave once after becoming Collector. I will never get back the two and a half years that I spent here, in my life. In a sense, these were the days when I discovered myself the most. When I became Pathanamthitta Collector I had planned to go to my native place on Sundays. But that became a dream for me in no time. I could meet my family just once in six months.
Apart from floods, COVID and elections, I could manage to resolve the pattayam issue to a certain extent. The chief minister's mass contact programme was a big success. With such meetings taking place at regular intervals, the officials are liable to answer. We managed to deliver justice to many people through such programmes.
Tasks left unfinished?
I could not implement the demands raised by the agitators in Chengara. Each person there deserved own land and pattayam. If they don’t get land in that particular place, they deserve to get elsewhere. Similarly the pattayam problem at Perumbatti. The people residing there deserve pattayams 100 per cent. But because of the opposition raised by the forest department, we are not able to grant them pattayams.
Controversy related to Pamba river sand mining?
There is nothing wrong in sand mining complying with the provisions of disaster management act. The Collector is liable to order such steps to avoid floods in the region.
Do you think a sudden break has been applied in your hectic work schedule?
It would be appropriate to say that more than relief; I have become familiar with dealing with tension. There is a story of a young man who went to an astrologer once. The astrologer said “you will have a tough time till the age of 24.” When he asked what would happen thereafter, the astrologer said; “It will become a habit.”
“I underwent a host of crisis situations and now it has become a habit with me,” he said.
Will you return to Pathanamthitta?
Why not? All my relatives are here. The relatives that I made over the past two and a half years. Wherever and in whichever department I work in future, Pathanamthitta will always remain in my heart. I will continue to do whatever is within my powers, for the district.