Mangalore: When the news was first flashed on this website on Sunday, July 22 about John Richard Lobo’s having opted for voluntary retirement from government service after over three decades, many would not believe it. That he had plans to join politics was a matter of further surprise to many others.
Although Congress has succeeded in wooing him, Lobo is a man for all political parties and all communities, say even political experts. Any party would be too happy to have him as its candidate, they admit.
Known by his famous initials, J R Lobo was born on March 26, 1953. After securing B Sc, B Ed and Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS), he served as tahsildar in Madikeri (1977-1979), Koppa (1979-1981), Somwarpet (1981-1985) and Puttur (1985-1989). Later, upon promotion, he served as deputy director of food and civil supplies of undivided DK district (1989-1993).
Posts held by him thereafter are as follows:
Additional district magistrate and headquarters assistant to deputy commissioner of DK (1993-1997)
Principal, District Training Institute in 1997
Assistant commissioner, sub-divisional magistrate of Sirsi sub-divison (1997-1998)
Competent authority, Mangalore Bangalore Petroleum Pipeline Project (1998-1999)
Commissioner, Mangalore City Corporation (1999-2003)
Deputy project director, Karnataka Urban Development and Coastal Environmental Management Project – KUDCEMP (2003 2009)
Last post held – executive director, Pilikula Nisarga Dhama, Mangalore.
He has also served as member of Regional Task Force for the development of DK and Udupi districts, external member of jury for National School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, panel member of Administrative Training Institute, Mysore for training officers of Karnataka, and as member of minorities development cell of Mangalore University.
1. Won President of India Medal for successive two terms during 1981 and 1991 for best Census Officer in Karnataka state for conducting National Census.
2. Undergone social training in Indian Institute of Public Administration for the development of SC / STs.
3. Awarded Rajyotsava Award-2005 as ‘Nagarika Seva Prashasti’ for public service.
He has served in Church and community-related fields as member of diocesan finance committee of Mangalore diocese, member of pastoral committee of Mangalore diocese, member of of crisis committee of Mangalore diocese, as governing director on the board of directors, Fr Muller Charitable Institutions, Mangalore, as vice president of Rachana, a body of Catholic entrepreneurs, businessmen and professionals, founder member of Career Advancement programme Cell of CODP, Mangalore for promoting higher education and career guidance for youth. and as founder director of Bhandavya, a federation of Catholic NGOs in Mangalore diocese.
Seen even from a non-partisan angle, Lobo would certainly fit into any responsible positions in future. In an exclusive interview, he reveals his vision, insight into various issues and his ardent concern for Mangalore and the district.
Excerpts from the interview:
1. Tell us a few things about your career and experience and your feelings as you have just relinquished your office.
I have had a long career, with an opportunity to work at taluk, subdivision and district levels. It was indeed a rare chance for me to serve in my district in different capacities for 20 to 25 years
Throughout my career, I interacted with leaders of all political parties and people of all communities. This way I have a feeling of satisfaction about my career. Normally, officials from outside the district stay at the place of service over their tenure and go away. But being the son of the soil, I got an opportunity to do something for my district. I have been given an opportunity to create something, which would remain for a long time.
One of them is the Pilikula project, which I can proudly consider as my baby. I want it to reach the level of my vision. Pilikula is now on the national map. People come to Mangalore and insist on seeing Pilikula. One of my big plans for the place is the 3-D planetarium, which is on the anvil. The whole concept is mine. When everyone talked about the usual 2-D planetarium, I insisted on the 3-D version. When it materializes, it can boast of being the first-ever 3-D planetarium in the country.
2. What about the cost factor?
When the nitty-gritty and technical details of the 3-D version were discussed in the committee, there were a few who laughed it off. I said, if we have to grow, we have to think big. If we think small, we will always remain small. Everyone wondered where the money would come from. I said money was not a constraint, but it was a factor. Although the cost of Rs 24.50 crore looked big, I convinced them that it was within reach, considering the long-term utility of the project. Now the project has taken a concrete shape and would soon come into reality.
3. What is your idea about the improvement to the city and the district?
For the development of our district, we have to have a vision. I fondly remember the late U Srinivas Mallya, who brought to us the all-weather port, the airport, the Regional Engineering College (now NITK) and many projects, and also George Fernandes who gave us the Konkan Railway. If what Mangalore is today, it is because of these two gentlemen. Of course, there are others too who have contributed in their own way.
Hereafter, whatever opportunities God will provide me with, I will take them up to the best of my ability. I am not looking for anything for myself. Whatever I need, God has given me already. I am a satisfied person. I do not need anything more. Whatever I can do to the society and people in general, I will do it sincerely.
4. What exactly drove you to take this decision of going for voluntary retirement?
There was a lot of pressure on me from my acquaintances and well-wishers to take up a political career. In fact, it came even during the last assembly elections, but I had not given it a serious thought. This time I thought, well, if God has given me an opportunity, then why not? I took time to think it over, discussed with my family. We prayed and sought divine guidance and then arrived at the decision.
5. Was it partly with a view to spending more quality time with the family and have some peaceful moments of rest after a hectic career?
Not exactly. I am not a person who can take rest for more than one or two days. That is my nature and it has been my driving force. I will keep myself busy, since I believe in the saying, ‘Aaram Haraam Hai’.
6. Can you recall any moments of your career that you would remember lifelong? Any memorable situations?
There are quite many. Just the most important ones I would like to share are happy as well as sad. The most cherished one was when I was serving as tahsildar in Somwarpet in Kodagu (Coorg). I had to regularize large tracts of land which were in the possession of or under encroachment by many poor people. I was satisfied when I saw their happy faces when they got their ownership records in their hands.
Second instance was in the same taluk, when after some time, I happened to go on inspection and visited a small hut belonging to a poor man. As I entered, I could spot a tiny picture displayed at a prominent place. On close look, I realized that it was my own picture, which they had cut from a newspaper clipping and kept at home. When I asked them why they had placed it there, the man said that they had been there for so many years, but the land was given by me and so out of gratitude and remembrance, they kept my photo there. It was such a touching moment for me. They are the silent people and they cannot express, yet, they had that gratitude in them, which indeed moved me so much. I will cherish that moment all my life. There are many other moments as well.
A sad moment was when I was the headquarters assistant at the deputy commissioner’s office, also holding the additional charge of the Mangalore subdivision’s revenue assistant commissioner. I was entrusted with the responsibility of vacating the land for the MRPL project sometime in the mid-1990s, because there was a lot of pressure from the government to acquire the land for the refinery project.
V Madhu was the deputy commissioner and P K Subbaiah was the special acquisition officer. The Suratkal police station had not come up that time. To avert any possible law and order issues, we went there fully armed with police and reserve police protection.
Early in the morning, Subbaiah, myself and a large posse of revenue machinery were at the spot. At a certain site, an old woman was wailing and bitterly complaining to us, asking us what wrong they had don to deserve this. They were being evicted and very low compensation was being paid. She said the land they cultivated was the sole source of bread and butter for them and that we had thrown them on the streets.
I was totally shaken for a moment. I had faced more difficult moments relating to law and order, or exhumation of mortal remains from the graves in the presence of relatives, in the middle of their wails etc. But the episode I mentioned earlier will always be the saddest in life. I could not remain in peace the whole day. Then I decided that I would not undertake such responsibilities in future.
7. But you were doing it as a call of duty.
Yes, when we do our duty, there are instances which give satisfaction and there are others which give pain. We cannot help it.
My only concern is that I have to do more for the city and district. If we do not do much for the district we would not have a sense of belonging.
8. People here always have a thought that officials from outside serve here for a limited tenure and leave, hardly getting any time to go for long-term plans. The Mangalore airport did not develop for many years. But it was only after a son of the undivided Dakshina Kannada soil, M R Vasudeva, took over as director that a lot of development has taken place.
Yes, that is my thought also. Unless you are emotionally attached to the place, you will not take a whole lot of interest. If you are not from here, you finish your term and go. But if you are emotionally attached to the land, you will go an extra mile to do and you will find ways to do it. I am talking not only of Mangalore but of the entire coastal belt.
I feel sad when I see people leave Mangalore to settle down in other cities or abroad. We have to think as to why people are leaving and what is lacking here. There is the best education available here, then what is lacking? Today most of our youth are going away. Mangalore is not young; it is either old or of infants. The youth of Mangalore are going away from here, either to Bangalore or abroad in search of greener pastures. There are no opportunities here.
9. What is the solution?
We have to create opportunities for them. For example, tourism has such a huge potential in Mangalore. If we develop tourism, business will flourish, infrastructure will improve and the youth will get a lot of opportunities. We cannot say that only huge investments and industries can create opportunities. Of course, they are required. But what is naturally available and whatever potential exists should be properly harnessed.
10. Speaking of infrastructure, in cities like Bangalore, within a year so many flyovers and top-grade roads have been built, while in Mangalore, even a single flyover takes about five to ten years to come up.
Yes, it is true. It is because the government is giving top importance to Bangalore-centric projects. At least half the importance should be given to secondary cities and centres like Mangalore, Hassan and others. It has happened in Tamil Nadu and in Kerala. They have ensured a uniform growth in different cities and towns. It can be done here also.
To develop Mangalore, there is the advantage of connectivity by road, rail, sea and air. If the road from Mangalore to Bangalore is developed on the lines of Mumbai-Pune highway, then Hassan can take a big leap forward. All large industries can be set up there. Commutation from Bangalore to Mangalore could be a matter of four hours or so.
The benefit of seaport, airport, road and rail facilities will be taken by Hassan, where industries can come up. This has to be thought of because the undivided district of Dakshina Kannada has delicate ecological balance and environmental limitations. Hence this region should be developed for service-related activities, which should supplement the large industries in places like Hassan.
If you are talking about cost, we have to remember that today people are prepared to pay a price for comfort and convenience. Flights from here are going full and people opt for quicker travel. Hence the money will not be a problem. There are ways to utilize the resources.
11. Our former chief minister Sadananda Gowda had proposed a tunnel highway from Mangalore to Hassan, so that there would not be any damage to the environment. Unfortunately, he had to step down even before a survey could be conducted. Do you think it is feasible? What are your views about the concept?
I think it will be an excellent idea. It may entail huge expenses. But it is a one-time investment. It will take some time. Even though the man who dreamt it is out of power, he has sown the seed. People have started thinking about it.
Besides, the connectivity between Konaje or Talapady right up to the northern tip of the district like Byndoor should be improved. This will contribute considerably towards the development of the coastal districts. Plans should be taken up now. Later it could be forbiddingly expensive.
12. What do you feel about the proposed Mangala Corniche that will run around the city? There are people who think that, convenience apart, it may look like an ugly concrete skeleton and ruin the look of the city.
Yes, I do agree that the aesthetic point of view should be taken care of. Secondly, it should be seen whether the track will run along the bank of the river or a distance of 75 metres or whatever the CRZ regulations say should be maintained. If it is laid a little away from the river, the river-front activities can be developed and it would promote tourism.
All this needs a thorough plan. Unfortunately, we keep talking but do less planning. We have been hearing about the Corniche plan over the past ten to fifteen years. When we plan anything about infrastructure, we should plan for the next hundred years.
As I said already, public-private participation can do wonders. Cost will not be a constraint.
13. There has been a lot of pressure on the roads and facilities within the city. You were the one who first took the initiative to plan of moving the bus stand to Pumpwell about a decade ago. A new transport hub is coming up there now. Besides, there is a proposal to move the DC office to a new complex in Kulur. About 500-600 vehicles are said to be getting into the RTO office every day. If some more offices like the RTO are moved out of city, will it not improve the situation further?
It is a good move to shift the DC office to a highway location. All offices should not move from here. If that happens, the old city will die. A few offices can remain. But the city has to spread horizontally. There was a time when people used to say Pilikula is ten kilometres from the city. But today, Vamanjoor, which is still beyond, has become part of the city. In 25 years, most part of the district will be encompassed by Greater Mangalore.
14. Will it not be a good idea to restore and preserve the DC office complex and University College complex as heritage edifices and convert them into some kind of museums, before any plan is laid out to pull them down and replace them with new concrete structures? The court complex has already been pulled down and a new building is coming up.
I agree. They are magnificent buildings. They cannot be replicated. In Bangalore, the Athara Kacheri complex, constructed in Graeco-Roman and Gothic style in 1867, which now houses the state high court, was planned to be pulled down many years ago. But a large number of citizens objected to its demolition. Hence it was restored and renovated. Today it has remained in style and stature. Vidhana Soudha is classic structure. They tried to replicate it by building Vikasa Soudha next to it, but It is no match at all. Heritage structures cannot be copied or replaced. They should only be restored and renovated and preserved for posterity.