This is your country, if you won’t solve its problems, who will?” asks lawyer, IPS officer, and Chevening scholar Harssh Poddar. Yet, how many sully their hands with the endemic problems faced in India? Harssh Poddar does. And he continues to formulate ideas, initiate action that is slowing changing the way policing is done, how crime is perceived, and how society has the answers, if only you look hard enough. Poddar was on the TEDxGateway’s 10th edition held early December 2018 in Mumbai, most recently, where he spoke on motivation.
The Oxford graduate has brandished causes dear to his heart. He introduced innovative measures that led to the formation of an army of 42,000 inspired youngsters to fight crime and terrorism in a project called Maharashtra Police Youth Parliament Project. Poddar has worked with blind children to enable them to draft laws for the differently-abled. From law to Policing might have been an unconventional career change, and Poddar explains, “I was drawn to Law as I was keen on a career in public service. Law school and Oxford helped mould this idea into a realistic aspiration. Internships and courses in public law gave me a perspective into the scale of impact one can make as a part of the government.”
When there are so many achievements in a person’s life, it’s hard to single out just a few... In Harssh Poddar’s life, Udaan is among those jewels which he started after taking charge as additional SP of Malegaon. Studying the nature of previous communal riots in the city, he realised that most rioters were young people (16-25). Thus started his project to involve the youth in constructive pursuits in life with fortnightly free career guidance sessions. Over 5,000 students became involved with the project, and of the change brought about he says, “Despite Malegaon’s past-history of communal tension, not a single incident of violence took place in the aftermath of Bhima-Koregaon.” Poddar grew up in Kolkata, in a close-knit family, and today, he is grateful that his parents consistently supported his choices beyond academics, unconditionally. “My father unfortunately passed away after a sudden heart attack just before my civil services main exams. That was a very dark period, and it taught me a lot about dealing with loss and struggles. My mother has always been a source of love and inspiration,” says the son whose day is incomplete without a chat with his mother who calls his “anchor.”
Initiating a task force of youth to fight corruption, Harrsh elaborates on the parliament project that helped foster conviction among the youth about issues that relate to policing and law enforcement, “The main take-away is that law enforcement agencies need to increasingly start engaging with the community. We are now looking at replicating the project in Nagpur. This will be the first time where it will be introduced in a metropolitan setting.”
The past also moulded his value system. It was the Chevening scholarship and his studies at Oxford which helped him connect with several young minds and cutting edge ideas. “As a graduate student of law at Balliol College at Oxford, I found myself part of an environment that for centuries now has spawned world leaders and social reformers. While it was intimidating initially, it motivated me to think big. Oxford also ingrained a strong work discipline and the ability to think through complex issues,” says the officer who also worked as a corporate lawyer at Clifford Chance which gave him a front seat into the world of global finance. He then returned to join the Indian Police services.
Working with blind children on workshops to formulate guidelines for the differently-abled, social upliftment is a guiding light in all his deeds, “The National Police Academy (NPA) in Hyderabad encourages IPS officer-trainees to develop a strong social orientation. As secretary of the Law Society at NPA, I took the initiative to organise a workshop to raise awareness about disability rights among students of the Devnar School for visually-challenged children in Hyderabad. We designed a workshop where the children were asked to draft a disability law of their own. We gave them basic inputs about legal drafting (definitions, rights, punishments etc.). The ideas they came up with were so revolutionary that the NPA sent a comprehensive report on it to the central Ministry of Social Justice which decided to use the report as a resource for further policy-making on disability. This workshop served as the template for the Youth Parliament Project.” And on the project itself which was groundbreaking, and a sort of r esponsible vigilantism that empowered the youth, he adds, “The core idea was that once young minds start thinking about such issues, they will form long term convictions against crime and terror, and emerge as thought leaders. The rehabilitation system for juvenile offenders needs to have a greater role for the family.”
Poddar’s SMART police programme has been launched in Aurangabad, Kolhapur and Malegaon where ISO certification for police stations has been obtained so that the services would be commensurate with international standards. “Vaijapur, my first posting, became the first SMART police station of Marathwada. In my second posting in Kolhapur, we made Karveer division the first ISO certified division of the state,” he adds.
The young man who loves music, photography, debating, and horse-riding might not find much time for such pursuits, prod him and he adds, “My parents went all-out to ensure that I had opportunities to hone my skills. That unconditional support and encouragement in anything one does, is something that I feel every child should have.”
He is also a Hindustani Classical vocalist and Sitar player, and has won awards at the national level in horse riding too. His wife Aditi is a corporate lawyer in Singapore with a top law firm and their marriage he says, “is an equal partnership where they support each other’s careers.” Aditi is his best critic and best friend, and he concludes, “As a man nothing gives me more pride than to see my wife succeeding in a challenging career and achieving great laurels.”...