Everyone knows the story of former Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was a railway ticket collector before he became a national icon.
Gandham Chandrudu, a 2010-batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, has a similar story to tell.
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Born into a family of agricultural labourers in Kotapadu village in Kurnool district, Andhra Pradesh, he was a first generation learner. He spent a decade working as a ticket collector with the South Central Railway Zone (SCRZ) before cracking the civil services examinations.
Today, he is a proud District Collector posted in Anantapur.
“My parents were agricultural labourers, and I’m a first generation school and college educated person in the family. In fact, nobody in my family had even held a government job before I became a ticket collector,” says Gandham, speaking to The Better India.
Till Class V, Gandham studied in a local village school before appearing for Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Selection Test (JVNST). This admission test allows students entry into the public school educational institutions called Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNV).
Cracking the district-wise test, he got admission into the JNV in Banavasi, Kurnool district, where school fees were minimal.
After studying there until Class X, he appeared for an exam conducted by the Railway Recruitment Board, which offers a job-linked vocational course for intermediate (Class XI & XII) students. Those who clear this competitive exam across the entire SCRZ are eligible for the Vocational Course in Railway Commercial (VCRC).
He graduated high school from the Railway Junior College in Secunderabad.
“Once the course was complete, all of us were absorbed into the Railways. Before I was 18, I got a job as a ticket collector in 2000. Since I was working full time, going to a regular college wasn’t an option. So, I did my graduation in Commerce and post graduation in Public Policy via distance learning through Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU),” he shares.
Not getting a job after finishing school wasn’t an option for Gandham. He was looking out for his elder brother who had dropped out of college because of their family’s financial constraints. With a steady income flowing into his bank account, he sponsored his brother’s education. Today, his brother works as an Assistant Professor in a Vijayawada college.
However, working as a railway ticket collector wasn’t a fulfilling experience professionally, and after nine years he took a serious look at attempting the Civil Services Exam.
“I attribute my current success to JNV. Everything I learnt there has stayed with me. The money I saved up was used to buy material for my CSE preparations, but the foundation JNV laid for me and the income stability I enjoyed later aided me significantly. These were my two pillars. My parents also supported every step I took and gave me the emotional support to overcome any hurdle,” he recalls.
Preparing for the exam for an entire year before writing in 2009 wasn’t easy by any stretch. Unable to take many leaves, Gandham requested his supervisor to give him night duty, where public presence is minimal. This allowed him to study at night.
“I was working and studying. My leaves were only accepted for the last few days before the exam. The number of hours you spend studying doesn’t count as much as how invested you are in your preparations and the levels of concentration. I spent eight-nine hours every day studying without any distractions for an entire year,” recalls Gandham.
The results were spectacular. He attained an All India Rank of 198, and was given his favoured Andhra Pradesh cadre.
Serving the public
One of his earliest postings was in Rampachodavaram in East Godavari district, which is home to tribes like the Kondareddies, Kondakammara, Konda Dora, Kondakapu, and Valmiki. From September 2012 to February 2014, he headed the process of registering more than 20,000 voters from tribal communities that hadn’t voted since Independence.
They went onto cast their vote in general elections later that year in May.
“For anyone to cast their vote, they must have their Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC). The problem in these tribal communities were that they didn’t have these cards. Ideally, they should have other basic documents to register as voters. But many of them didn’t even have these documents. This boils down to a lack of awareness among these communities and administrative apathy. Seeing this pathetic state of affairs, I had no choice but to venture on an initiative that would fulfill their basic democratic right to vote,” he says.
Sending teams into these remote hamlets with a camera, his administration went into overdrive to register these voters. Teams would take their photograph, collect their application forms with their signatures or thumb prints and process them. They enrolled immediately, and voted in the 2014 general elections.
“Never before had the voting percentage in this assembly constituency gone beyond 60 per cent, but after my enrollment drive, the voting percentage jumped to 77 per cent. During the election, I was promoted as Project Officer of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency at Rampachodavaram, but nonetheless I maintained these efforts,” he says.
Through his one-year tenure (2014-2015) there, he tried to ensure basic facilities like road connectivity, water supply and additional sources livelihoods were available to the local populace, particularly wage employment through NREGA.
From 2015-18, he served as the Joint Collector in Vijayawada. Aside from a host of welfare initiatives, his standout achievement there was successfully conducting Krishna Pushkaran (similar to the Kumbh Mela) in 2016, where more than 25 million devotees attended the programme in a span of 12 days.
Prior to his posting in Anantapur district earlier this month, he was the Managing Director of the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Caste Corporation, which offers subsidized low-interest loans to people from marginalized communities seeking to become entrepreneurs.
As head of the corporation for a little under a year, his task was to ensure that those who have entrepreneurial capacity were given low interest loans ranging from Rs 1 to Rs 45 lakh to help them start their own business.
As Collector of Anantapur district, meanwhile, his main objective is to embark on a massive afforestation drive in this semi-arid region and fulfill its economic potential since it lies bang in the middle of the Chennai-Bengaluru industrial corridor.
It’s a resource rich district with minerals ranging to diamonds available. “To tap into this potential, we are really focussing on enhancing the district’s economic capabilities. Our focus is on developmental needs of the district. That will be our main priority,” he says.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)