Dr J Radhakrishnan is remembered for his tsunami relief and restoration work in Tamil Nadu’s coastal districts. He is also led from the front during Covid-19.
On the morning of December 26, 2004, Dr J Radhakrishnan, Thanjavur’s then-district collector, was at the tennis court when he felt the ground lightly shake. The 1992-batch IAS official had no idea that from that day forward, he would have to witness a catastrophic tragedy the likes of which he or the state of Tamil Nadu had not seen in recent memory.
Tamil Nadu had been struck by a massive tsunami. Radhakrishnan became aware of the gravity of the situation when he began receiving phone calls from collectors in neighbouring districts requesting ambulances and relief supplies. Soon after, he received orders to rush to the damaged areas in neighbouring districts and supervise relief efforts. Around 2,000 people were killed in the surrounding Akkaraipettai.
Today, 17 years later, Radhakrishnan is remembered for his tsunami relief and restoration work in Tamil Nadu’s coastal districts, where sea water had gone up to two kilometres onto land in some places. He is currently the health secretary of Tamil Nadu, and he has spearheaded the state government’s campaign against the Covid pandemic from the front lines.
Throughout his civil service career, he has left his imprint in every department or region he has served. Radhakrishnan’s tsunami relief and restoration efforts drew international notice. Former US President Bill Clinton praised his work as a UN special envoy for tsunami recovery when he visited tsunami-ravaged towns in Tamil Nadu in 2005.
Radhakrishnan says, “We were significantly aided by independent people, including UN agencies like UNICEF and UNDP, who assisted us in the requirements assessment.” Working closely with non-governmental organisations was one of his biggest skills. There were approximately 99 youngsters who had no one to care for them. We established an orphanage for them.”
The residence, Annai Sathya Illam, is still standing today. With the exception of two or three children, the remainder of the children have grown up and either joined their extended families or married.
Radhakrishnan’s family is close to two girls, Meena and Sowmya, who are in their second and third years of B.Com studies, respectively. When they were brought to the family, Meena was three months old and Somya was nine months old. Radhakrishnan and his wife are regarded as their parents by the two girls, who address them as ‘Appa’ and ‘Amma.’ Radhakrishnan’s family maintains contact with them and provides emotional and moral support.
Santhakumari, a fisherman’s wife, was also encouraged by the family since she showed a desire to study and pursue a PhD. Less than six months before the tsunami, Radhakrishnan had to deal with another tragic tragedy in which 94 children were killed in a school fire in Kumbakonam, Thanjavur district.
Radhakrishnan recalls the tragedy, stating, “Thirteen children from the village of Natham were killed in the incident. The entire community was in sorrow, and they had not eaten for two or three days. As a family, we went to every house and provided psychosocial assistance to the bereaved relatives. I recall how my five-year-old kid persuaded an elderly lady to take some water.
When Radhakrishnan returned to Kumbakonam after a long absence, an elderly widow who had lost her grandson in the school fire hurried up to him, inquiring about him and his family and thanking him for his help in their time of need.
Radhakrishnan says, “These are the events in my life that I will never forget.”
Dr. Radhakrishnan was born in Madras (now Chennai) and attended Kendriya Vidyalaya schools in Kanpur, Chandigarh, Deolali, and Nashik up to Class 12 because his father was a Warrant Officer in the Air Force and had been sent all throughout India.
When M K Stalin was Mayor of Chennai Corporation between 1996 and 2001, he had the opportunity to work closely with the present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin.
Before being promoted to Commissioner, he was the Deputy Commissioner of Health and Solid Waste Management for the Chennai Corporation. The Mayor pushed us to try new things with solid waste management.
In 2001, he was appointed Collector of Salem District by the Jayalalithaa government. Around the same period, Jayalalithaa started the Cradle Baby Scheme to combat female infanticide. The scheme’s immediate impact was the tragic occurrences of female infanticide and foeticide.
The finest thing about Radhakrishnan is that he has managed to maintain good relations with both the DMK and the AIADMK, the two main parties that have alternately ruled Tamil Nadu since 1967.
He has kept cordial connections with both DMK patriarch Karunanidhi and AIADMK iron-lady Jayalalithaa. Following their demise, he worked in crucial ministries for EPS, who succeeded Jayalalithaa as CM, and now for the current CM Stalin.
Dr. J Radhakrishnan’s wife, Krithika, is a popular face on Tamil TV channels, anchoring cuisine, travel, health, and infotainment shows. Arvind, the couple’s son, recently completed his MBBS. J Vaidyanathan, Radhakrishnan’s elder brother, is a senior Vice President with IndusInd Bank.
Despite his hectic schedule, Radhakrishnan frequently takes lengthy drives and travels to different locations with his family.