Amid the spike in COVID-19 cases in Tamil Nadu, the government on Friday (June 12) transferred Health Secretary Beela Rajesh as the Secretary of the Commercial Taxes and Registration Department and replaced her by J Radhakrishnan, who had previously held the post between September 2012 and February 2019.
A 1992 cadre IAS officer, Radhakrishnan has always been at the forefront in dealing with various crisis— fire accidents, tsunami, dengue and the COVID-19 pandemic. Until 2004, not many people in Tamil Nadu had known J Radhakrishnan. That was a time when he was serving as the Collector of Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu.
After a tsunami struck the state on December 26, 2004, late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa transferred and posted him as the Collector of Nagapattinam district to carry out relief measures.
A former bureaucrat, who did not wish to identify himself, said Jayalalithaa transferred him to Nagapattinam after noticing his work in the aftermath of a fire accident at a school in Kumbakonam that killed 94 children.
Though Radhakrishnan maintained a low profile as a Collector in a delta region, he shot to limelight after former US president Bill Clinton praised his administrative skills during the tsunami relief works in Nagapattinam.
Later, the United States Department of Education invited him to Washington DC to deliver a lecture on tsunami and the relief works. The Sri Lankan government too invited him to share his experiences with the country’s healthcare staff and relief workers.
After over a decade-long stint as a Collector, Radhakrishnan was appointed Health Secretary in September 2012 by the then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. During his tenure, he achieved new milestones in bringing down the maternal mortality rate in the state by increasing the number of hospitals in rural areas.
According to a NITI Aayog report, about 99 per cent of deliveries in Tamil Nadu in 2015-2016 were institutional deliveries. This was largely attributed to the measures taken by Radhakrishan. While he was praised for his administrative skills, he was always seen on the ground, unlike many other IAS officers.
“During 2015 floods, even as the relief workers were being carried out by the disaster management team, he stepped in to check if there was any disease outbreak. This was because of his experience as the Collector of Nagapattinam, where he carried out relief works after the tsunami,” the former bureaucrat said.
After the death of Jayalalithaa, Radhakrishnan hit the headlines again, but for the wrong reasons. A few ministers started accusing Radhakrishnan in public meetings of preventing the former Chief Minister from getting treated in foreign countries.
Thereafter, J Radhakrishnan was appointed Principal Secretary of the Transport Department and later transferred and posted as the Principal Secretary of the Revenue and Disaster Management Department. It was during then that he was seen on the field when a two-year-old boy had fallen into a borewell in Trichy. During the 82-hour rescue operation, Radhakrishnan was on the spot all through.
Soon after the outbreak of COVID-19 in the state, Radhakrishnan was the first person to check the arrangements that were made to examine passengers at the railway stations and other places. The state government, which realised his potential lately, designated him the special officer to handle the COVID-19 crisis in Chennai.
Ever since his appointment, Radhakrishnan has been focussing on containment plans to isolating vulnerable groups and creating awareness among the people by roping in NGOs.
People in the know told The Federal that he hardly sat in the office after his appointment as the special officer. “Right from morning till 11 pm, he visits as many places as possible to check the implementation status and other plans, besides attending regular review meetings with his colleagues,” said one of the peers of Radhakrishnan.