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Former Kozhikode DC Prasanth Nair Talks About Kerala Rescue Efforts

In what are believed to be the worst floods in Kerala since 1924, hundreds were left dead and thousands more rendered homeless in late July 2018. Former District Collector of Kozhikode and current Deputy Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Prasanth Nair, and his group of volunteers were some of the thousands who helped out with the rescue operations. Speaking at the venue of the National Conference on Youth in Social Changeat which he was a panelliston Sunday, Prasanth Nair addressed media bodies and later in the day, the general public on this and other topics.

Prasanth Nair first addressed media bodies on issues ranging from his social welfare programs, his online presence, and the Kerala floods. Nair, the founder of the Compassionate Kozhikode initiative, is known for pioneering the use of social media to address various issues of the public as a District Collector. During his tenure, he has initialised various programs like the District Collector’s Internship program, Kozhipedia, Legends of Kozhikode, and the well-received Operation Suleimani. His dedication and connect with the people have won him the title of Collector Bro in the district.

The forum for discussion opened with Prasant Nair sharing his experience with the Facebook page Collector Kozhikode, that was used by the administration to engage with the public. He holds the conviction that communication is not one-way, or for that matter, even two-way, but gets initialised in a forum of numerous people. He differentiated engagement with publicity, saying that the aim was not to get a huge crowd to like the page. Complaints and grievances are received and looked onto here. Rather than pictures of the collector or fancy ceremonies, the posts on this page are a call for action. The page bridges the gap between government and the governed by offering the civil society opportunities to step in when in need of some paraphernalia or during budget constraints.

Talking about the recent floods in Kerala, Prasanth Nair gave a few insights into disaster management. He mentioned that under a new initiative of Compassionate Kerala as part of the relief operations, they were aiming to re-establish the lives of ten thousand flood-affected families. So far, about seven hundred people have signed up for the program, with two crore rupees committed by the public. Nair also mentioned the youth who have actively volunteered for Kerala, taking over the backend operations like tracing locations and work at BPOs. He’d had teams of volunteers from various universities, including ones in Manipal. For instance, SOS call centres in Kerala saw more than four hundred students from Amrita University itself.

Later in the evening, in a session open to the public, Prasanth Nair addressed an interactive session, talking about his experience of the rescue operations in Kerala and offering advice on how we, as citizens, can contribute.

The session began with Nair posing a question to the audiencehow could someone sitting in an office in the city rescue someone stranded in the floods? He answered the question by elaborating on the setting up of call-centres in Chennai and the less affected parts of Kerala. The call-centres entertained any details related to possible evacuations, which helped smoothen rescue operations.  The main objective was to remove duplication of data and get proper documentation of people trapped in different places.

Image Courtesy: Compassionate Kerala

During the conference, Nair took questions from the audience about his experience during the rescue operation. He answered queries on how his team had worked with the local administration on forwarding the distress calls to the Navy. He also spoke about the importance of technology during times of distress. Google Sheets was a widely used tool by the volunteers to keep a track of all the rescue operations. They also formed a group of Navy wives and sisters who sent distress calls to concerned officers. He addressed the importance of social media and technology during times of trouble.

During the course of the session, Prasanth Nair spoke about the various unnerving scenes during the rescue operations. The first anecdote narrated started with a bleeding pregnant woman marooned in the floods with what seemed like no hope for help. Upset and thoroughly dejected, the team had given up hope. However, they woke to the news of the possibility of rescuing the lady, who had managed to survive the night. The operation was successful and the woman and the newborn were both safe and healthy.

While this narrative began in a morose way and ended on a happy note, another incident took the opposite arc. Prasanth Nair’s team had been in constant touch with a man who was stuck in his house with no cause for panic and was hoping to be rescued soon. After a brief loss of communication ended, however,  the team was shocked to discover that the man no longer wanted to be rescued, having just witnessed his wife and children drown in front of him. Through these instances, Prasanth Nair put into perspective the magnitude of the disaster and shone a light on the sheer effort that goes into rescue operations, emphasising the effort made by the rescuers and the emotions involved.

Featured Image: The Photography Club, Manipal

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