IAS officer Prasanth Nair is the inspiration behind an international effort to collate genuine distress calls and route them to the relevant officials.
New Delhi: First, as the district collector of Kozhikode, IAS officer Prasanth Nair won the hearts of his home state, earning the moniker ‘Collector Bro’ for his citizen-friendly and participative approach in governance. Now, a few years later, at a time when Kerala is battling the worst natural calamity it has faced in living memory, Nair has inspired a volunteers’ movement to help the hundreds of thousands in need.
Nair, now deputy secretary in the union ministry of new and renewable energy, wrote a Facebook post on 16 August, imploring the participation of volunteers in rescue and relief operations.
Within minutes, a Facebook group called ‘Flood Technology Support Kerala 2018’ sprang up. It was started by IT professionals to gather information of those stranded and in need of rescue. At the time of publishing this story, the group already had over 600 members, and had made over 500 posts with information on victims and missing persons.
It has now spun off to include 14 WhatsApp groups – one each for every district in the state – plus an app on the Google Play Store, and many other Facebook pages. (See list of WhatsApp groups below)
How the group is helping
The group was created by a Facebook user named Richin R. Chandran, who was one of the first people to comment on Nair’s original post.
When contacted by ThePrint, Chandran replied via email (reproduced here with minor edits for clarity): “I just started 14 groups for each district and through that, we collected data of victims and volunteers. We found active members from USA, UK, and the Middle East too.
“Now we are team of administrators. Each group is monitored by an admin, to verify the data. We tried to collect data through a Google form initially. Later, with the support of team members, we created a mobile app for the same.
“Without even stopping to sleep, a lot of members abroad created a team to verify the data – Riya, Sanjay, Jaydev, Aji, Anand, Sooraj, Mini, Divya are some of them. There are a lot of unknown active members too.”
“After sorting, we shared the data to district collectors, hoping for the best to happen. We are still verifying data and updating the sheet.
“We then found volunteers from areas and created rescue groups. We are sharing verified data to those groups.”
When ThePrint reached out to the group directly, member Jaydev responded on its behalf, and explained how it is functioning. First, the information is collected with the Google document, the app, WhatsApp group or messages on Facebook. This information is then forwarded to each district’s rescue teams. The page also posts how many victims need rescuing or the need for rations by way of Facebook events.
Most of the entries are for rescuing multiple people from areas like Ernakulam, Kottayam, Idukki, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur and even capital Thiruvananthapuram – some entries are for about 30 people, some for about 100, or some even for 300. The worst affected region, said Jaydev, is Chengannur in Alappuzha district. The greatest need is for food and water.
Jaydev said the volunteers try their best to verify whether the request for assistance is genuine before passing it on to the rescue teams. Sometimes people post or forward a message for assistance when it’s no longer needed. There may also be some fake campaigns raising funds or donations, which people should be wary of, he added.
Jaydev also confirmed that the inspiration behind their effort was ‘Collector Bro’ Nair’s Facebook post, but Chandran clarified that they weren’t associated with any official; that they were just trying to help by collecting and providing information to officials.
“Please note, we are not official people. We are trying to gather data of victims and volunteers and providing that to official people,” he said.
District-specific WhatsApp groups
Here’s a list of the WhatsApp groups for each district: