Massive floods in two consecutive years, Sabarimala protests, becoming the first COVID-19 hotspot in the country - it wasn’t an easy task for Collector PB Nooh.

Pathanamthitta Collector PB Nooh in a maroon checked shirt looking at a file in his office
news Collector Thursday, January 14, 2021 - 12:37

A bespectacled man clad in a white shirt carrying a sack over his shoulder trying to cross an overflowing stream in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district had gone viral during the 2018 floods. This man was none other than PB Nooh, the District Collector. His work during the two devastating floods and the pandemic gained him the admiration of the people of Pathanamthitta. Now as he is transferred to a new post, his Facebook page has been inundated with wishes from people.

The Kerala government on Wednesday transferred Pathanamthitta and Palakkad Collectors in a regular reshuffle. As a result, Pathanamthitta Collector PB Nooh and Cooperative Registrar Narasimhugari TL Reddy will replace each other in their respective posts.

As soon as the transfer was announced, PB Nooh posted a farewell message on his personal page as well as the official Collector’s page. “Time to go. Will miss you, beloved Pathanamthitta,” he wrote. Immediately, thousands began replying, thanking him for his work in the district. Not the least of which were the calm Facebook lives he did during the pandemic. It proved to be a major reassurance for the people of Pathanamthitta in their strong fight against COVID-19.

Appointed the district’s Collector in June 2018, within just two months Nooh had to handle the biggest flood that Kerala witnessed in a century, like many of his peers in other districts. The task at hand was to evacuate almost 15 lakh people from most areas of the district. The government immediately also sent another IAS officer, Harikishore, who had served as the Pathanamthitta Collector earlier to assist Nooh. The duo worked for almost 20 hours every day, coordinating and managing the control rooms, and even going on the field to help with relief work.

 

The floods repeated in 2019 and Patthanamthitta was again one of the worst hit in the state. In 2019, the district also became the cynosure of the nation as the Supreme Court allowed women of menstruating ages to enter the Sabarimala temple situated at the Periyar tiger reserve in the district. For weeks, the district witnessed protests and violence against the verdict, and the Collector had to clamp down on the protests.

Though 2020 did not thankfully bring floods, it brought the pandemic, and Patthanamthitta became the first COVID-19 hotspot in the country with five positive cases. Unsure of who all the infected people had met, Patthanamthitta was the first in the country to publish contact tracing maps. A lockdown was imposed, call centres set up, international passengers screened and quarantine rules issued – even before most other places in the rest of the country saw a single case.

Nooh’s daily lives on Facebook, calmly explaining the cases and the steps taken brought in a great sense of comfort and hope. And as he bid adieu to the district, the thanks poured in.

“Will always try to carry forward your vision sir.... Last three years have been testing times but you were one of a kind… we survived the storm because of you,” wrote one user.

“You were unique and effective dear P.B.Nooh. The challenges you faced were unparalleled. Natural calamities, religious issues. Amidst of it, you kept your calm, which was great and solved the issues,” another person commented.

“We were so proud to have you as our collector sir. We felt so safe in your hands amidst all the chaos. You will be missed sir,” another comment said.

Nooh is the seventh of eight children of a couple who owned a small grocery shop in Ernakulam. He cracked the civil service examination and was inducted as an IAS officer of the Kerala Cadre in 2012.

Read: How Kerala collector PB Nooh managed the crisis in India’s first COVID-19 hotspot

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