Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Senior Bureaucrat Remembers

M. Ramachandran has written a memoir of his 38-year service in the Indian Administrative Service

By Shevlin Sebastian  

In the 1990s, at Meerut, the Governor had come on a visit. According to protocol, he was lodged at the main Circuit House. At the same time, a central minister had come visiting and was put up in an annexe. It affected the minister's ego. In front of everybody, the minister shouted at the Divisional Commissioner M. Ramachandran, although this was not under his purview. Ramachandran was deeply anguished and wrote a letter to the Chief Secretary apprising him of this incident.

This incident was recounted in Ramachandran's memoir, 'The Mavericks of Mussoorie' (Life in the corridors of power). Today, decades later, Ramachandran still keenly feels the humiliation of that moment. And during the panel discussion following the book release, recently, at New Delhi, retired senior bureaucrats like TSR Subramanian, BK Chaturvedi, Amitabh Kant and others did talk about the need for a code of conduct for politicians, just as it is there for members of the civil services. “This discussion should be taken forward,” says Ramachandran.

This well-written memoir is a must-read for all those who are entering the service or beginning their careers. It gives a clear picture of the problems a bureaucrat can face, and the ways to solve them, as well as the pulls and pressures from politicians and the public. It can also be interesting to others.

'For the general reader, the book is a chance to acquaint themselves more intimately with how the Indian Administrative Service or the bureaucracy functions,' writes Ramachandran in the preface. 'All too often it is assumed that civil servants lead cushy and luxurious lives. People are quick to feel frustrated with bureaucracy and failures in governance, but I think the book will provide a perspective and an understanding of the multi-layered challenges of functioning within a layered and structured system.'

Indeed it does. Apart from that, there are nuanced portraits of leaders like Narain Dutt Tiwari, S. Jaipal Reddy, Rajiv Gandhi, Arun Nehru and Kalyan Singh.

And not surprisingly, there are interesting anecdotes. On December 6, 1992, the day the Babri Masjid fell, Ramachandran received a call from a batch-mate who was posted in another state, seeking immediate help for troubled family members who belonged to a minority community and were being targeted. He immediately passed on instructions to the local administration to make sure that that protection was provided.

'Such was the bonding of batch mates in the All India Services; this colleague knew he could count on immediate help and relief being provided,' wrote Ramachandran. 'I would have come to the help of any other such person as well, but the question was how many people would have been able to contact me directly, like my batch mate?'

In another time, when he was personal secretary to Arun Nehru, who was a minister of state for internal security, Mother Teresa came visiting at North Block. And Ramachandran accompanied her to the Customs Board located on the other side of the building. 'After some time, while on her way back, she made it a point to walk back to my office just to thank me and present me with a small memento,' writes Ramachandran. 'I was greatly touched. This was very gracious of her. I felt happy I could be of some help to this rarest of rare human beings dedicated to the service of humanity.'

Ramachandran describes many other experiences, the numerous developmental works, his stint in the United Nations Development Programme as well as his stay at the University of Glasgow where he did his M.Phil in Economic Planning. Eventually, he secured a doctorate from the University of Lucknow.

After a 38-year-service, Ramachandran reached the post of Secretary, the Central Ministry of Urban Development. And he was all set to reach the apex post of Cabinet Secretary. But he experienced a major disappointment, when the incumbent received an unprecedented extension, resulting in a four-year term.

It is a sad reflection of the decision-making process,” says Ramachandran, who retired in 2010 and stays in Delhi. “But I knew that I had to move on.” Today, he is the Chairperson of the Indian Heritage Cities Network Foundation, Chairman of the National Urban Transport Awards Committee, as well as a chancellor of a university. 

It has been a life well-lived.

Title: The Mavericks of Mussoorie – Life In The Corridors of Power'

Author: M. Ramachandran

Publisher: Rupa

Pages: 307

Price: Rs 395 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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