(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express)
Ernakulam District Collector Mohammed Hanish is basking in the adulation and gratitude of the people for solving the garbage crisis
By Shevlin Sebastian
As Ernakulam District Collector A.P.M. Mohammed Hanish was about to sit on his chair at the camp office near Durbar Hall Ground on a Thursday morning, he received a call. It was from T.M. Abu, a former mayor of the Cochin Corporation and a well-respected politician. Abu bemoaned the state of the city at present and compared it to the time several decades before. Hanish, 37, listened patiently and with respect. Abu did not know that about 40 people, men and women of varying ages, were waiting to meet the Collector.
After the conversation, Hanish swung into action. As petitions were put in front of him, he dealt with each one swiftly, speed reading the letter, marking the action to be taken with a pen and passing it on to his assistants. Amazingly, within 45 minutes, he had cleared out the room.
Later, in the air-conditioned Ambassador car, on the way to the collectorate in Kakkanad, Hanish said, “The experience of meeting the public in the morning has been an ennobling one. The entire spectrum of human emotion, the pain and anguish, the trials and tribulations and the joy are on display.”
The problems, he said, were usually related to property disputes and physical threats but the most common and distressing was the need for financial assistance. “They believe that the collector can get everything done, so they come to me. I have set up an informal system where wealthy individuals and NGOs can lend a helping hand.”
Outside, a traffic constable at the Palarivattom bypass crossing, saluted the Collector, who is basking in the kudos and gratitude of a city for solving the garbage crisis.
“Would you believe it,” he said, his eyes enlarged in amazement, “that in just four days, we cleared 5000 tonnes of garbage. Now, the backlog has been cleared, and we are back to daily collection. Actually, you just need 60 lorries and the garbage can be cleared within two hours.”
So what was his most interesting experience during the crisis?
“The extraordinary build-up of tension on Saturday morning (July 28) when I passed the order to take over 50 acres of Central land, belonging to FACT, towards the state government for public purpose,” he said. “The people refused to accept it.”
The tension began to build up. As district magistrate, he declared prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. “By about 9 p.m., everybody expected a physical clash,” said Hanish. “But by 10 p.m., the huge crowd melted away and just 37 persons allowed themselves to be arrested.”
So what happened? “I made two conclusions from this,” he said. “One, I have this deep faith in the law-abiding nature of the people. Secondly, if there is political will and administrative efficiency, anything can be achieved.”
At the collectorate, Hanish was having a discussion with politicians (K. Babu, Prof K.V. Thomas, among others) and panchayat presidents about the state’s plans for Onam celebrations later this month. Outside, in the corridor, Sabu Varghese, the personal security guard of Hanish, said, “Sir works twenty hours a day. He has lunch at 5 p.m. When he returns to the camp office, he has visitors till 10.30 p.m. Then he takes the files into the house and works till 1 a.m., has dinner, goes to sleep at 2 a.m. and gets up at 7.30 a.m.”
Later, Hanish confirmed these timings and it was obvious that this was taking a toll on his family: wife Amina and five-year-old daughter Ayesha.
Agreed Hanish: “Yes, the greatest sufferers have been my family, but they are putting up with it bravely. Since my wife is the daughter of a well-known politician, (M.I. Shah Niwas), she knows what life is like in the public eye.”
On the phone, Amina acknowledged that it had been very difficult in the beginning to adjust to the long absences. “But now my daughter and I have got used to it,” she said, with a laugh. Incidentally, Hanish became collector in July, 2004.
So what has motivated him to keep to this punishing schedule? “The fact that my actions can create a great difference in the lives and living conditions of people, and the warm responses from hundreds and hundreds of people,” he said. “I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction when, at 2 a.m., I have set to rest every pending file in the district.”