Even celebrities would envy this: The Facebook page of a young District Collector who captured the imagination of an entire State with an innovative idea to help the hungry, has drawn over 2 lakh respondents and followers in just under a year.
Kozhikode District Collector, N. Prasanth, who assumed office in February 2015, uses the page to bounce out-of-the box ideas off the public.
Unlike similar official pages, this one does not post pictures of the Collector’s programmes; no self promotion, just utility-based posts. It aids crowd sourcing and mass mobilisation.
“We sorted out the immediate requirements of the mental hospital here in a matter of weeks, bypassing cumbersome government procedures. Contributions were accepted only in kind. Mass mobilisation by offering biriyani to those who helped clean the district’s ponds was another effort,” says Mr. Prasanth, who is popular on social media as Collector Bro.
What brought global fame was Compassionate Kozhikode, a platform to get people to feed the poor. Under Operation Sulaimani (named after a local tea recipe), several local restaurants ensure that no city inhabitant has to go hungry. The beneficiaries just need to collect a food coupon kept by a donor in a box, and get a decent meal in any of these restaurants. There is no need to beg and about ten thousand meals have been served so far.
These and other initiatives have found a resonance far beyond the Collector’s district. When the State Government reportedly considered transferring him out last year, it had to drop the idea to avoid a mass local agitation.
Mr. Prasanth, who is 35, says improving transparency and quality of governance is the key. “A lot of people frequent Facebook now, and being able to use Malayalam has added to the potential. It is a great feeling when someone comes with a petition and mentions that he has sent me a complaint the day before on Facebook. We check and mostly find it has already been resolved. The citizen satisfaction is boundless,” he says.
But it is demanding. “It is a challenge to handle the traffic as I have to do it hands on. That’s crucial to credibility. This is not a celebrity page that could be outsourced. And it’s the direct communication that makes it different. The Collector Kozhikode page engages,” he says.
Some of Mr. Prasanth’s other projects include Legends of Kozhikode, a documentation of hidden stories and anecdotes. Kozhipedia is an Open Streetmap-based initiative on streets, folklore, cultural and natural heritage of Kozhikode and Savarigiri, provides students using public transport ‘security and dignity’.
The Internationale Tourismus-Börse, Germany, chose Compassionate Kozhikode as one of 50 inspirational global projects.