A land of heavy Dandakaranya forests, calm streams and ancient tribal traditions, Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district has long been in the limelight for the all wrong reasons. Since the 1980s, it has been conflict-ridden and equivalent with violence and hunger. But, a positive change is slowly but steadily rolling in the district nowadays. And this is a much-awaited revolution happening due to the brilliant efforts of persons like IAS officer Saurabh Kumar, the dedicated and profound district collector of Dantewada.
Soon after taking charge of the affected district of Dantewada, the 2009-batch IAS officer Chhatisgarh cadre was struck by the upsetting fact that the district didn’t have enough doctors, engineers, or even science teachers in its schools. Proficient manpower from outside the region was unenthusiastic to come to the district and the local youth did not have the proper training. Understanding the threat this posed to the future generations, the officer decided to do something to change this. He realised that helping the local students make the right career choice and to fulfil their dreams was a simple but indeed a strong way of ensuring that they didn’t choose the path of violence.
He then introduced a two-hour career counselling sessions by picking 50 – 100 students from random government schools in the district. Commonly known as “Lunch with the Collector”, these sessions are held every Wednesday at the Government Transit Hostel at Dantewada’s district head office. During these sessions, each student is invited to share their dreams, interests while Saurabh and his team of officers note them down. When all the students are done with sharing their dreams, Saurabh, then discussed the various options available for each of them and outlines the steps they can use to achieve their goals.
After the counselling session, the students are then offered a simple yet wholesome lunch of dal, puri, few sabzis, salads and papad. But, wait, this is not all. Once a fortnight, Saurabh also invites the parents and teachers of bright students for an “Evening with the Collector” to discuss the steps that can be taken by the student to help/her make the right career choice and live a perfect life.
In 2017, he also received the Prime Minister’s award in the category of excellence in innovation for changing Naxal-hit Palnar village of Chhattisgarh into a cashless village after demonetisation though it had no digital connectivity. By educating children and asking them to put their energy in a positive direction, Saurabh is not only giving the conflict-ridden district a new lease of life but is also inspiring many other officers across the nation to do the same.
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