Expressing his admiration and amazement at the quality and scale of projects done by RI District 3211, as he inaugurated/unveiled a few of them to mark Rotary India’s centennial year, RIPN Shekhar Mehta said, “This is not to undermine the work done by Rotary in other parts, but I have always been a huge admirer of Rotary in southern India. I find Rotary really thriving in the south; look at the huge membership growth that the South has shown.”
Referring to a single club — Rotary Club of Pala — alone doing a project worth ₹11.5 crore in giving medicines to government hospitals, he said: “This is astounding. Add to this the 1,000 houses you are going to build (300 will be completed this year) for the flood victims in Kerala, the mobile mammography bus donated by the Y Daniel Foundation (run by PDG John Daniel) at a cost of ₹1.75 crore, plus the additional houses this Foundation is building, and so many other projects in healthcare, literacy, etc, and you are doing great service.”
He called on stage and honoured the incoming president of RC Pala, Srinivasa Vachaparampil, who was the moving spirit behind the ₹11.5 crore project for medicines.
Reiterating that Rotary in India was the “Kohinoor in the RI crown”, as nowhere else in the world were such mega service projects being done, or such membership growth reported, Mehta urged Rotarians to scale up both their service projects as well as membership goals. Any district with 4,000 members should be taken to the 5,000 figure, and then split to accelerate growth. He gave the example of Bangladesh which had only 3,000 members, but “they split and in five years have grown to 10,000. The same is true of RID 3230 after it split. Partitioning is heartbreaking but good for growth.”
Mehta presented the Service Above Self Award to DGE Thomas Vavanikunnel, honoured PDG Ramaswamy Iyer for completing 50 years in Rotary, and commended the homes for flood victims built by the district last year under the leadership of PDG E K Luke and PDG John Daniel for the service projects he was doing for Rotary through his Y Daniel Foundation. PDG Daniel handed over the Rotary Mammobus financed by his Foundation at a cost of ₹1.75 crore to Mehta, along with a cheque of ₹25 lakh for some more homes for the flood victims.
On behalf of RID 3211, DG Shirish Kesavan handed over a cheque of ₹6 lakh to Mehta for 100 shelter kits.
Other projects planned/executed by the district include an ambulance for trauma care, a school bus, dialysis service for the needy, a blood bank, free medicines for the flood affected in Wayanad district, a home for the mentally-challenged, and a global grant for providing 200 sewing machines.
Responding to DGs Shirish Kesavan and Sheik Saleem (RID 3212) and several PDGs who had felicitated him, Mehta said he and Rashi were “overwhelmed” by the spontaneous love and affection that Rotarians had displayed at various felicitation events. He understood the joy every Rotarian felt in seeing a fourth Indian reaching the topmost position in Rotary. “That is why when Rotarians want to take pictures with us, I willingly agree, because 30 years ago, if an RI President had come to my club or district, I would have wanted to do the same!”
Complimenting PDG Daniel, Chairman of the centennial celebrations/felicitation event, the RIPN said “getting 1,200 people to come to a felicitation ceremony is like having five felicitation events together!” Congratulating RID 3211 DG Shirish Kesavan for the service projects of the district, especially building homes for the flood victims, he added, “I know how difficult it is to build one house; building those homes is not an easy job. There is no greater charitable work than helping people in a disaster. The misery and distress they experience we can’t even imagine and they will always remember the people who reach out to them during such a time.”
On his nomination, Mehta said this was not something he had planned. When PRID Sushil Gupta withdrew from the position in May due to his unfortunate ill health, he decided in June to put in his name, “and in two months, it all happened. People take years sometimes. My father is very ill, and in an ICU-like situation; I thought I’ll put in my name and will be in the queue for some years…I didn’t know they will push me to the front of the queue.”
Mehta urged the assembled Rotarians to work for one more goal — making Rotary the No 1 service organisation in the world. This would happen only if data was collated on the worth and value of Rotary service projects being done around the world, particularly India, where “amazing work” was being done.
On Dec 29, for instance, “in Kolkata we are launching a ₹25 crore project to make a residential school for 1,000 children; the groundbreaking ceremony will be held that day.” Then, during the Centennial summit, from Feb 14–16, another ₹50 crore project will be launched to set up a 400-bed hospital.
The current DGs had pledged to do projects worth an astounding ₹2,400 crore this centennial year. “Where else in the Rotary world do you find this scale of service projects being done? ” Mehta asked and said at the Indore Institute a website will be launched which will enable every club president to update the value of his/her club’s projects. “Hence very soon we will collect and collate the data and we will be the only country in the world to do so. The RI presidents have no clue how many hospitals or schools we have built or are running. How many benches, libraries we have created… we’re going to change that.”
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat
Let us build structure, involve PDGs in service
The RIPN also underlined the need for replicating the Literacy project structure in preventive health, water and sanitation and disaster management. Coordinators could be created for each vertical. “If we can put a structured network in place for all these three areas of focus, we will have as many as 500 PDGs involved in our work and this will change the very nature, manner and the way charitable work is done in India.”
That would also result in “fewer past governors engaged in politics or elections as an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. There are past governors who want to get involved and do service work but they are not getting an opportunity. They don’t want to play only in Ranji trophy matches but also at the national level.”
He requested PDGs or any other Rotarians who want to work either in health, water or disaster management, “to please write to me. We will definitely find a role for you. Let us together change the way Rotary works in India. We already do outstanding work and are now on a springboard; let us take a leap from here.”
Kolkata’s connection to RI Presidents & Nobel Laureates
RIPN Shekhar Mehta once again reiterated his conviction that Rotary, which is on the verge of eradicating polio, should get the Nobel Prize. “We deserve it for the work we have done. After all, in 2,000 years only one vaccine-preventable disease has been eradicated from the world, and polio will be the second one. When that happens, it will give us huge publicity; we will not have to go to anyone to talk about us!”
Referring to the oft-talked about Kolkata connection to all the four Indians who had marched towards the RI President’s post, Mehta brought in the City of Joy’s connection to “the maximum number of Indians who have won a Nobel Prize. Once again, a Kolkata man, Abhijit Banerjee, has got a Nobel. He is from my school and was two years my junior. Indians from Kolkata who have got a Nobel include Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen, apart from Banerjee. Who knows when an Indian from Kolkata might receive it again? No special credit to me, but somebody will have to go and receive it on behalf of 1.2 in the world!” he said, amidst applause.
But, Mehta added, he was tired of the 1.2 million number on Rotary’s membership, which had remained constant. “Let’s make it 1.3 million… in three years if each one of you can bring one member… we can make it 1.3 million by taking India’s membership to 2.5 lakh on the day
I lay down office in 2022.”