CHENNAI: "My father hailed from a rural background and worked hard to study law and become an advocate. So to help someone in need was second nature to him. He used to help anyone and everyone who approached him - those from the village, friends and relatives; guide them, provide assistance with finances, education and what not. He always wanted to enable others to achieve above and beyond what he had and could," shares Mahesh Kumar Aggarwal, the 106th police commissioner of the city, since 1856, who was a silent observer of these attributes of his father.
Spending his formative years soaking in these values have perhaps shaped the senior IPS officer's destiny of helping and leading the city, especially during such times of crisis. "To me, rendering my service to people is very organic. I don’t see it as a task. When we lend a hand, the other person doesn’t need to reciprocate but most times, it becomes a virtuous cycle, creating a desirable occurrence…of one helping the other, leading to a chain of good activities. This cycle, of giving back to society and its people, has to be acknowledged and promoted in the society," he asserts.
Always in action
A testimony to these words is his Twitter handle, almost always brimming with positive, congratulatory messages for his ilk, weaved with words of appreciation for the public who have taken on the role of responsible citizens.
The most recent instance is that of a city-based woman, who chased and nabbed mobile snatchers, in an autorickshaw with the help of passers-by. The law graduate, who became an IPS officer in his early 20s, met the 28-year-old at his office and applauded her courageous act that set an example for fellow citizens.
Appointed as the head of the city police on July 2 at a time when cops have been working round the clock as frontline warriors against the coronavirus, one of his many priorities has been to boost the morale of the police force.
"Helping those from the force and their family has always been one of the primary causes for me. Even during my earlier assignments and tenures, I have done whatever I could with the resources that I had at the time," says the officer, who has been the recipient of several meritorious awards, including the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s police medal for excellence in public service.
Coming from the school of thought where he realises that change rolls in slowly and steadily only when one leads by example, he recently rendered help to 123 children of police personnel stationed in the frontlines fighting COVID-19 by getting them admitted into colleges, paving an ignited path for their future.
"Several police personnel have been working tirelessly with no time for their family while many have also been affected by the virus. So when this idea came about, I thought helping them with the admission process of their children would not only take some pressure off their shoulders but will also reinstate that good work will always be awarded and respected with such gestures. But I don’t see this as anything out of the ordinary. In fact, this is the least I can do for the force and their children, who are very meritorious and have a life to look forward to," he shares, unflattered by the recognition.
Working tirelessly with his team, in the last two months, the social media handle of the Greater Chennai Police has been buzzing with updates. Cracking down on narcotics suppliers, setting up new cybercrime cells in a short span, busting online flesh trade rackets, organising plasma donations by police personnel who've recovered from COVID-19, introducing video-call facilities for quick redressal of public grievances, sending appreciation messages to good Samaritans, curating awareness drives on crime prevention, and providing safety kits to frontline workers — the outcome is omnipresent.
Man of the masses
Despite long hours of work and roles that are often inversely proportional to their own safety, he points out that most times the humane side of the police are not recognised by society and is less appreciated. "In such times, these actions will be a boost and recognition for their hard work and sincerity," he explains.
Aggarwal, who earlier held the post of nodal officer in Chennai's north zone, to assist the Corporation’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus, emphasises how a strong society can be built only on the foundation of a synergetic set-up, during trying times.
"The city and state in several situations have witnessed the police and public working hand-in-hand and this has often helped in handling crisis and catastrophic situations effectively and preventing loss or damage. Joining the forces is important, especially when permanent infrastructure may not be adequate during a crisis. Even recently, we witnessed individuals, volunteers and NGOs taking on mammoth tasks along with the police during the COVID-19 relief work and the rehabilitation of migrant labourers,"elaborates Mahesh, who played a vital role in handling the issue of stranded migrant labourers during the initial days of the virus breakout in the state.
"I was tasked with the duty of identifying migrant labourers, organising food and shelter and coordinating with the employers and district administrators. It was new to me but I took it as a learning opportunity. I reiterate the same to my subordinates — don’t get bogged down by challenges, look at everything as a wisdom-inducing opportunity and prove that you are capable of handling adversities," he details.
In a span of 60-odd days, several measures have been taken by the functionaries, who work under this chief’s wing, to ease the burden on the public and ensure their safety. "We are in public service and our duty is to put people first - both during normal times and in a crisis. Even during the 2004 tsunami, when the alert for a second wave was raised, we were meticulously working by placing barricades and blocking the road, ensuring the safety of people, while putting our lives at risk. While in the force, we have to be ready to take certain risks. The priority always remains the public. Many recovered personnel have also come forward to donate plasma. This willingness to help will also set an example for others," he asserts.
For the commissioner, an ideal society is where everyone abides by the norms, where everyone co-exists harmoniously while helping each other further their potentials and multilaterally developing the community. "A society where there is happiness, a sense of belonging, helpfulness and cooperation is the society I dream of. It’s a work in progress to achieve the vision," he notes.
Breaking a sweat is no feat for him. And so, when he is not busy keeping the city safe from the spread of the coronavirus or busting crimes, he spends the limited time with his family. “There’s no time to unwind now. Being on duty is what gives me the most fulfillment. The satisfaction one gets doing the duty is paramount,” he signs off.
Making a change
The social media handle of the Greater Chennai Police has been buzzing with updates. Cracking down on narcotics suppliers, setting up new cybercrime cells, organising plasma donations by police personnel who’ve recovered from COVID-19, introducing video-call facilities for quick redressal of public grievances, sending appreciation messages to good Samaritans, etc — the work of his team is for everyone to see.