SR Sankaran was an IAS officer but Telugu people know him as a “synonym for welfare” and “synonym for simplicity”. Ever since his allotment to Andhra Pradesh in 1957 till his last breath on October 7, 2010, he left no stone unturned in striving for the welfare of weaker sections. He worked as the Sub Collector of Nandyala, Kurnool districts, Joint Collector and Collector of Nelluru district, Secretary to Government of AP in Social Welfare Department, Secretary to Government of India in Rural Welfare Department, Additional Secretary and Chief Secretary to Government of Tripura. Whichever post he held, he always thought, spoke and worked for the welfare of weaker sections. On the eve of his 10th vardhanti, let us recollect his contributions.
When he was working as the District Tribal Welfare Officer of Kurnool, Vadrevu Chinaveerabhadrudu (IAS now) visited an inaccessible tribal hamlet Nemallakunta in Nallamala forests 30 years ago. He was shocked to know from the village tribals that during the early 60s Sankaran stayed there on weekdays and settled land disputes and distributed pucca pattas to Chenchu tribals, SCs and Boyas, keeping in view future prospective problems also.
In Service of Dalits
While he was travelling to Nandyala, one fine morning he saw a Dalit man feeling sad for being thrown out of his ‘chappal’ stitching stand by upper caste people. Sankaran immediately ensured that the Dalit man was back at his original place. Such a resolution requires a big heart. Subsequently, as Secretary of Social Welfare Department, Sankaran gave utmost importance to LID Caps as an essential source of income to the Dalits. Once Dr Satyanarayana, Director of Dalita Adhyayana Kendram, along with his wife, visited Sankaran. Sankaran, who led a celibate life, made coffee and served to the couple with his own hands. A shocked Dr Satyanarayana asked, “Sir, you are serving!”. Sankaran replied, “Let me washout my old sins”. Dr Satyanarayana sensed that Sankaran who was born in a Brahmin family in Tamil Nadu was conveying that the Brahmins and upper castes had oppressed the Dalit Bahujans for generations together and hence it was time for them to serve the latter now to balance their sins.
Sankaran served the Dalits in its real sense. He worked hard to rehabilitate the Dalits. Similarly, he worked hard for the construction of Vijaynagar colony near Cheerala for a similar cause. He also strived hard in rehabilitating the thieves of Stuartpuram so as to give them dignity in life. His efforts in not only administering but advocating the right of landless Dalit – tribal people — in getting pattas to their tilling lands taken over by the government from landlords under the Land Ceiling Act helped them hugely. But he had to face many hurdles from feudal lords and big politicians, including the then Chief Minister, against his endeavours to remove bonded labour.
He went on a long leave and joined as Secretary to the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. His sincere efforts in the Ministry ended in the enactment of 72nd and 73rd amendments to the Constitution, which gave more financial and decision taking powers to local governments during the Prime Ministership of PV Narasimha Rao.
Sankaran was invited by the Chief Minister of Tripura, where he worked as Additional Secretary and Chief Secretary of the State. Immediately after coming to power in 1983, NT Rama Rao, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, personally called and appointed him as Secretary of Social Welfare Department.
During that period, the government did a lot of work for the welfare of poor people. That was because, in the capacity of Secretary, Social Welfare, Sankaran had taken many result-giving initiatives to provide education to the children of people living in remote areas – the tribals – by establishing schools, hostels and providing scholarships to students. He also worked hard to eradicate the age-old tradition of Jogini system prevalent in north Telangana. This helped many women live a dignified life.
Solving Land Grabbing
Sankaran fought for the people of Srikakulam district and held serious discussions with then District Collector Yugandhar and with BD Sharma, Chairman, National SC, ST Commission, on how to eradicate the practice of land grabbing by well-off people in tribal areas. The discussions led to the enactment of 1 of 1970 Act, which practically helped tribals get pattas to their lands and till without any oppression from the upper classes. Sankaran quoted the results in his introduction to the volume on ‘Land Reforms in India: Andhra Pradesh’ as:
“A typical example is the work done in a tribal sub-division of Utnoor in Adilabad district of AP, where land records were updated in 206 villages, 84,500 a. of land were assigned, ownership rights conferred on protected tenants to the extent of 5,900 a., surplus land of 3,388 a. assigned and physically handed over, 1,616 a. of land restored to tribals – all within a period of a year by very sensitive and responsive administration.”
He suggested for more effective implementation of land reforms: “it is necessary to substantially strengthen the capacity and willingness of the government machinery, personnel, and procedures to meet the challenges from the emergent dominant groups. Alongside this, it is essential to create preconditions that strengthen the ability of the rural poor to acquire countervailing power against the ascendant dominant groups and build up entrepreneurial capabilities of their own to compete with the rural rich in exploiting the new economic opportunities.” (Sankaran: 2012, p. 622)
Sankaran desired to settle the issue of naxalites too. For the cause, after his retirement in 1992, he formed an organisation in 1997 and his efforts culminated in the government calling the naxalites for talks in 2004 but his endeavors went in vain. It is said that with that grief he passed away in 2010.
Thus, Sankaran stood for the cause of weaker sections throughout his life. He did not treat his endeavours as part of his duties but as his divine missions. The Prime Minister proposed his name for the Padma Bhushan, but he gently rejected it. He felt more honoured at the villages named after his name in Nellore district. As a respect to the towering personality, the Tribal Welfare Department of Telangana named a conference hall as Sankaran Hall.
(The author is a Historian specialising in Telangana matters)
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