Monday, March 08, 2010

Giving her all


Ernakulam District Collector M. Beena has a strenuous schedule, which affects her family life, but at the end of the day she feels she could do better

By Shevlin Sebastian

Ernakulam District Collector Dr M. Beena gets up at 6 a.m. every day. Thereafter, it is a mad rush to get her two children ready for school, at Chinmaya Vidyalaya at Vaduthala. Once they leave at 7.15 a.m., she sits down to read the daily newspapers.
“Newspapers give me a good opportunity to gauge public opinion,” she says. “It also helps me keep abreast of what is happening in the world.”

At 8.30 a.m., she begins work. For the next half hour, she clears up all the pending files of the previous day. By 9 a.m., the morning durbar begins. The petitions are usually about problems with the local panchayat, the water authority, or the Cochin Corporation.

“It is not under my jurisdiction, but the people want an endorsement from the Collector,” she says. “They feel that it will help resolve their problems.”

At 11 a.m., after Beena has seen a hundred people, she sets out for the Collectorate, at Kakkannad. There, she spends the day meeting more petitioners and having numerous meetings. Lunch is at 2.30 p.m. At 6.30 p.m., she is back at the camp office, for another round of meetings. This lasts for one and a half hours. Then she goes home.

By this time daughter, Vishnupriya, 8, and son, Vignesh, 6, have had their dinner. She puts them to sleep. On any given day, she barely spends an hour with them. “I feel very guilty about this,” she says.

After dinner, and a chat with her husband, senior police officer P. Vijayan, Beena returns to the office and clears files till about 11.30 p.m. Then it is off to bed.
This is her schedule for six days of the week.

On Sundays, it is ‘public function’ day, and Beena is invariably invited to inaugurate or give a speech. So, she hardly has any time for herself.

“I don’t think I have gone shopping, except during Onam and Vishu,” says Beena. After coming to Kochi, nearly two years ago, she has seen only one film: ‘Pazhassi Raja’.

So, for the District Collector, it has been work, work, and more work.

So, what are her achievements?

“I am proud of the efforts I have taken for the Vallarpadom land acquisition programme,” she says. Beena has also been associated with the Metro Rail project and thanks to her initiative, former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam declared Kochi as the first child-friendly city.

Then she started a programme, with social organisations ‘Maithri’ and ‘Childline’ to deal with suicidal tendencies in children. “The Safe-I Hospital project, to ensure that hospitals provide a clean environment for patients, has been a success,” she says.

But Beena feels keenly that she has not been able to reduce traffic congestion. “That had been one of my initial goals,” she says, although traffic is not strictly in her portfolio. “Like most commuters, I waste two hours a day being stuck in traffic.”

But she brightens up when she talks about the upcoming Vytilla mobility hub. “Thanks to this project, long-distance buses will no longer have to enter the city,” she says. “It will reduce traffic jams to a great extent.”

Having said all this, Beena feels she has not done enough. “It is my fault,” she says. “I am not using my time in a more productive manner. I attend a lot of meetings, which are mandatory, but nothing fruitful occurs.”

And because the Collector’s job is high-profile, there are a lot of people who readily point fingers at her. So, does she enjoy the job? “Yes,” she says. “I love the interaction with people. More than the power, for me, the deepest satisfaction comes when I am able to make a difference to people’s lives.”

But as Beena becomes aware of numerous life stories, she is stunned to see so much of suffering. “I don’t know why this happens,” she says. “It seems most of it is God-given. So, why does He inflict so much of pain? This is a question I have asked myself a thousand times.”

5 Rules For Being a Good Collector

Be a team leader.

Be accessible to people.

Be thorough with the laws before taking on the job.

Don’t be put off by negative coverage.

Be aware of the district’s sensitivities and peculiarities

(This column looks at the lives of leading personalities)

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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