COORDINATOR (WATER & SANITATION), FOOD INDIA
Hailing from a remote place of the Nilgiris (Blue Mountain, Tamil Nadu), where the State’s hydroelectric project was implemented in the sixties in collaboration with the Government of Canada, Ragunathan did his primary and secondary schooling in the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board’s camp schools. Based on his performance Sri Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya School of Engineering at Coimbatore offered him an opportunity to continue his studies in Diploma in Civil and Rural Engineering.
While in school he evinced interest in the upliftment of the poor, and he associated with classmates in providing shelter for flood affected poor people in Jambai village in Sathyamangalam area in 1972-73. The famous Inventor cum Industrialist of Coimbatore, Mr. G.D. Naidu, provided designs for construction of these houses. Ragunathan was able to complete 30 houses in 30 days with aid from Sri Ramakrishna Mission and other philanthropists.
This project was a turning point in his career and he developed passion for social and economical upliftment of the poor. The Ramakrishna Mission recognized his services and felicitated him with an appreciation and citation.
From 1974 to 1983, he was associated with many water supply and sanitation schemes for the welfare of the urban poor. Also he contributed to the slum development programs in the state of Tamil Nadu. He continued his studies and graduated in Civil Engineering at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai in 1983.
Between 1983 and 1990, Ragunathan underwent training in urban poverty alleviation, community development, water & sanitation and public health. He was also involved in conducting awareness programs on urban health and sanitation including management of public infrastructure.
In order to keep pace with the demanding requirements of industry, he did an MBA in Indira Gandhi National Open University with specialization in Marketing Management in 1998 which in turn enabled him to concentrate on rural and urban divide in economy.
Between 1995 and 1998 he was associated with the Tamil Nadu Institute of Urban Studies at Coimbatore as a Faculty member and used this opportunity to train women Self Help Groups, Community Development Society members, Elected Representatives, urban managers and Engineers on urban poverty alleviation, health and hygiene. Also Ragunathan developed special training programs for sanitary workers employed by the government with focus on safety and hygiene. Further, women elected body members from the local bodies were given training on administration and management of local bodies apart from personality development to become efficient leaders.
In every approach, he utilized participatory learning methods for imparting trainings. He was also successful in partnering with twinning programs with National Institute of Urban Affairs (New Delhi), Administrative Staff College of India (Hyderabad) and Local Self Government Institute (Mumbai). Some of the women self help group members who had undergone his trainings later became elected members of local bodies while a few others becane chairpersons and City Mayors. These are visible outcomes of sustained training methods developed and adopted appropriately by Ragunathan.
Around this time the social and environmental impact on projects funded by World Bank, ADB and other funding agencies was gaining importance. These funding agencies were insisting on Social and Environmental impact studies at the time of sanctioning projects. As part of these efforts, Ragunathan associated with the Anna University and the IL&FS Mumbai to undertake a study on social impact of a proposed major water supply and sewerage scheme at Tirupur (Tamil Nadu) that was being implemented by the newly developed NTADCL company at a cost of Rs 1500 crore on public-private-partnership model. This study was completed successfully and the findings were accepted in toto by the World Bank. Further the poor that were impacted by this project were suitably compensated and this raised the quality of their life.
The evolution of environmental awareness among funding agencies and the recipients prompted Ragunathan to do post-graduate under Master of Engineering with specialization in Environmental Engineering. On completion of this he was actively involved in the formulation of schemes on environmental upgradation. He conducted seminars and workshops on water and waste water systems as also on climate change.
Ragunathan has developed courses for Engineers in water supply and sewerage projects including operation and maintenance and has imparted training to user groups so as to enable them to self manage the assets created.
He also initiated small water supply system and public toilets management through community groups involving NGOs in Tirunelveli, Trichy and Madurai corporations. These proved to be economical and efficient than contractor managed toilets. Major sewerage and water supply schemes were facilitated to pass through rigorous external funding agency guidelines.
Being a fellow of Indian Water Works Association and Member in Institution of Engineers India, Ragunathan has conducted international seminars. He continues to be a life member of the National Solid Waste Management Association, New Delhi and the International Solid Waste Association.
As President of the Indian Water Works Association for the year 2011, he participated as resource person and delivered lectures at the Indo Japan Summit 2011 which is a Partnership Program and made presentation on Opportunies in Water Business in India. He also attended International Seminars and conventions like the Singapore International Water Week and visited Dubai and Qatar to study the infrastructure facilities there.
Presently he is engaged in doctoral research in Madras University in the field of Sludge and its impact on water and earth surface. He is of the view that such environmental issues need to be addressed in the initial stage itself before they explode out of proportion.
As part of his activities at FOOD Ragunathan is currently associated with National Institute of Design (Ahmedabad) to develop new designs for Public Toilets in an effort to eradicate open defecation and thereby bring an improvement in quality of life of poor.