If you happen to hear the cackle of children or the sound of a teacher reading out a lesson at the Kozhikode collectorate in Kerala, do not be surprised. This Kozhikode collector must be the only District Magistrate anywhere in India, who willingly shares office with a school.
It was not as if this was planned. The Aided Upper Primary School in Malaparamba, a government-aided school in Kozhikode district had applied for shutting down three years back. According to the rules of the Kerala Education Act, if any manager who is running an aided school wishes to shut it down, he can do so after applying to the state government.
``There was a lot of argument and counter-argument between the government and the manager. The High court finally ordered the sealing of the school from June 8. The orders of the court had to be obeyed,'' said Girish Cholayil, Deputy Director (Education), Kozhikode.
But the education department had not made alternate arrangements. Sixty eight students - from class 1 to 7 - left in the lurch, had nowhere to go and it was then that the collector stepped in. N Prasanth, also called Collecor Bro opened the doors of the conference hall inside his office to the students for them to use it as a temporary classroom till alternate arrangements were made. So amidst photographs of Mahatma Gandhi and B R Ambedkar, the young students began their new academic year in a daunting yet inspiring environment.
Prasanth is now on leave and is out of the country. Janil Kumar, Additional District Magistrate, Kozhikode said, ``Since the conference hall would be needed for official meetings, the students have now been moved to another hall in the collectorate complex. Partitions have been provided for the different classes and chairs and blackboards to give the feel of a proper classroom.''
The worry is that though the students learn their lessons, they no longer technically `belong' to a school. ``The government will have to accommodate them in government schools in Kozhikode district so that they do not suffer for no fault of theirs,'' said Cholayil.
This is not the first time that the Kozhikode collector has been in the news for all the right reasons. Prasanth has a cult following in the district, for using his social media for a larger purpose. The Kozhikode collector Facebook page has over 2.10 lakh likes, which Prasanth uses effectively to connect to the people in the district.
The `Operation Sulaimani' scheme that he launched last year has been hailed as a path breaking effort to ensure no one remains hungry in Kozhikode. Anyone without money to buy food only to has to approach any of the 25 counters of `Operation Sulaimani' and get a food coupon which can get him free food at more than 100 designated hotels in the district. The project is sponsored by the hotels that also collect donations from the public.
This January, Prasanth also got the public involved in cleaning up the 14 acre Pisharikavu pond in Koyilandy and in exchange, he offered the volunteers a plate of delicious Malabar biriyani. In no time, the pond was cleared of water hyacinth and slush.
In e-literate Kerala, Prasanth is one bureaucrat who is thinking out of the box. And his ideas should give enough food for thought to others of his ilk.