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Women's Day Special: Exclusive interview with P Amutha, IAS
P Amudha, IAS, Commissioner of Food Safety and Drug Administration, speaks exclusively to DT NEXT on the occasion of International Women's Day.
1. Everyone dreams to be an IAS officer. What determined you to become one?
Everyone has a dream. As a child, I too had a dream. My grandmother was my role model. She spoke in length about my grandfather who was a freedom fighter. Patriotism had been instilled within me at an early age.
I went to a Collector’s office for the first time with my grandmother to get her pension. There, I inquired about the Collector's designation with her. She told me that the position was 'equal to a King' and if I wanted to do good for the society, then I should become a Collector.
I always had interest in trekking. On my 13th birthday, we went to the Himalayas. There, I met a group, who said they were IAS officers. When I asked them what IAS meant, they said they were Collectors. From then on, I aimed to become one.
I asked my grandmother what I should do to become an IAS officer. She told me to put 100% effort in whatever I did so I could achieve it. That's how I prepared and became an IAS officer.
2. What was the first thing you did after as an IAS officer?
Ours is an unequal society. I wanted to remove the veil of inequality. I wanted everyone to get all benefits from Government and to be treated fairly.
3. Other role models in your life apart from your grandmother?
My teachers. They taught me the word 'equality'. They spoke about the state of women’s progress in the world, the hardships women face in a male-dominated society and explained how to proceed and prolong.
4. What was the first order you approved after becoming Collector? What changes did you bring forth?
I was appointed as Collector of Dharmapuri. Dharmapuri was a district in Tamil Nadu with marginal female literacy rate. Female infanticide was common.
As a woman Collector, I wanted to bring an end to this. So, I created awareness among teachers first. I informed girls to convey their pressing concerns with their teachers and shared my phone number with them. A week later, I received a call from a class 8 student who said her parents were compelling her to marry. I contacted the Head master of the school and asked her to convince their parents and educate them about child marriage laws. Somehow I successfully stopped the marriage. I often received calls from girls regarding this issue.
5. How did you manage numerous calls having shared your number with so many students?
Many people would make calls just to confirm if the number belonged to me. Whenever I attend a meeting, my PA would note down the calls and inform me later. From time to time, I would advise callers to refrain from asking if it was my number. Gradually, I started getting calls of vital matters.
6. As a public servant, you normally face more problems. What is your advice for women who want to become IAS officers?
If you are interested in public activities, form a group and involve yourself. Identify like-minded people and work together to strive for good things. More people will join the cause.
7. During the 2015 floods in Chennai, you took strong action against encroachments. How did these encroachments happen?
When waterbodies or ''poramboke' lands get encroached, people don't bother about it. They think these issues will be taken care by Government. People living near such encroachments, especially the ones on canals and water courses, should fight against them. If people start questioning and take first-hand initiative, encroachments will never crop up again.
8. Presently you are posted as Commissioner of Food Safety and Drug Administration. Nowadays people are worried about adulteration and obsessed about organic foods. What's your take on this?
I have studied B.Sc Agriculture. After the late 60s, with increase in population, we started to use artificial pesticides and fertilizers in order to increase the agricultural productivity. Though we achieved our aim, we spoiled arable land with loads of artificial ingredients. Now we have realised these pesticides and fertilizers are dangerous to our body. People started to turn towards organic vegetables and foods, but realised they are being sold at a higher price. When more people adopt organic foods, there might be a chance for reduction in cost.
9. What are your thoughts on the public acceptance of plastic ban?
Before 20-30 years, there was no plastic usage. Every time when I went to a shop, I used to carry a cloth bag and purchase things. As our lifestyle changed, we started relying upon plastic bags and bottles which started depleting our habitat. Now, the government has taken initiative to avoid plastic usage among public and even levied fine on those who don't obey it. This move has considerably reduced the risk of pollution. People are asking for alternative resources and we are working on it.
10. Your husband is a civil servant too. How do you discuss important matters with him?
My husband is working as a Secretary in Forest department. Plastic ban comes under his purview. We do discuss a lot about this issue and try to implement the firm decision taken by Tamil Nadu government.
11. How do you update yourself in various areas of interest?
In the past 25 years, I have almost worked in 15 different departments. As a fast learner, I grasped knowledge about those departments within a month. At times, I do discuss with my seniors and clarify my doubts. When you are ready to learn about something and you make the effort, you get information flowing around you.
12. You have worked under two Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu, Mr Karunanidhi and Ms. Jayalalithaa. What do you like about them?
I feel blessed to have worked under both the Chief Ministers. Mr Karunanidhi was hard working, active and had a witty personality. Jayalalithaa was a sharp minded woman who took decisions very quickly. Both were popular leaders of TN and they impressed me quite a lot.
13. What message would you like to deliver to Women on this special day?
Women can do wonders if they believe in themselves and work hard. Choose your role model wisely, follow them closely, and imbibe qualities you love about them. With this, you can shine as a role model for future generation.