First Stirrings

An Affair to Remember

A former three-time chief secretary looks back with pride

The idea of a career in the administrative services was not mine. I was barely 13 years old and about to give my Class IX examination, when my father, a professor, advised me that I should plan to get into the IAS rather than follow him as an engineer.

My only perception of the IAS and its predecessor, the ICS, was that of all-powerful district magistrates and formidable collector sahibs issuing prohibitory orders like Section 144 of the CrPC. I was a child during the pre-Partition and Partition riots. I remember a public relations person sitting in an open tonga announcing the collector’s diktats.

Some years later I was to realize that being an IAS officer meant much more than enforcing law and order. The career was a noble call to national service that would also give me status and social support. India was newly independent. Young men like me were suffused with idealism.

After being selected for the IAS I was posted in Haryana as an officer of the state’s cadre. At that time, Haryana was among the most backward states of the country. Nobody could have imagined that it would become a frontrunning state in the years to come.

I was posted as deputy commissioner, Mahendragarh, in Narnaul in 1967 during the Rao Birender Singh regime, but left for a central deputation in 1968 and joined the department as a fresh entrant. I returned to the state in 1972. Thereafter, till my retirement in 1997, I continued to alternate between the state and central governments. When I was recalled to the state during Chaudhary Bhajan Lal’s regime to become Haryana Chief Secretary for the third time in 1995, I was then the Industry Secretary to the Government of India. One of my peers called up and asked me my feelings about returning as chief secretary for the third time. I replied that it felt like getting married to the same woman for the third time.

Times have changed and along with them, value systems. Globalization has made its impact upon society and governance. Things are vastly different from what they were in the1950s and ’60s. There is a new dynamism in the air all across India. But this is nothing new to Haryana.

‘I went to see Chief Minister Bansi Lal on official work. He asked me to sit comfortably before I could even open the official discussion. He asked me to compare him with Chaudhary Bhajan Lal as chief minister’

of quick decision-making, and transmitting them to the lower levels of government. Haryana’s per capita income for the last year is the second highest in the country-a little over Rs 31,000 at current prices, second only to Goa. As I said, the Haryana of today is very different from the Haryana of 1966.

I was closely associated with four chief ministers of Haryana: Chaudhary Bhajan Lal, Bhagwat Dayal Sharma, Chaudhary Devi Lal and Chaudhary Bansi Lal. All four were unique. In fact, once when I was Chief Secretary (for the third time), something interesting happened. I think, it was in 1996. I went to see Chief Minister Bansi Lal on official work. He asked me to sit comfortably before I could even open the official discussion. He asked me to compare him with Chaudhary Bhajan Lal as chief minister.

Even for an officer who had been in civil service for 36 years, this came as a googly. I decided to play with a straight bat. I asked him whether I could compare three of Them-Chaudhary Devi Lal, Chaudhary Bhajan Lal and him. He asked me to go ahead. Tea was served in the meantime and I had a couple of minutes
to collect my thoughts.

I told him that Chaudhary Devi Lal was essentially a big landlord, a large-hearted person. He had neither the time nor the desire to go into details. Also, he was quite credulous. Turning to Chaudhary Bhajan Lal, I said that he was very suave and generally a nice person. He tried to respect all those worthy of respect. He was so nice in his personal relations that you could not be sure whether he was really happy or not. As for Bansi Lal himself, I told him that it was difficult to describe him to his face. But in his register, there was no column for pardoning people. Once he was annoyed with anyone, it was difficult for that person to regain his favour. I told him that in his new avatar he was more accommodating and straightforward.

Another event remains indelibly etched in my mind. I was Home Secretary when Banarsi Das Gupta was chief minister. In 1976, during the Emergency, he did not pressure officers to do anything wrong. I recall one major incident of the time.

Mani Ram Bagri, Member of Parliament, was in jail under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) at Rohtak and he was ill. One day I received a telephone call from the District Magistrate, Rohtak that Bagri was critically ill. He suggested that Bagri be released from jail on parole. I told him that we had already sanctioned three months’ parole to Bagri. He said that Bagri was adamant, insisting that he did not want a conditional release and would not agree to parole.

It was morning, I asked him to call me in the evening at 5 pm when I would give the government’s decision. I tried to contact Banarsi Das Gupta who was also the Home Minister. I could not contact him as he was travelling, addressing public meetings.

The district magistrate called at five in the evening. I told him that I had not been able to contact the chief minister. I asked him to consider all factors and when he reaffirmed Bagri was critically ill, I asked him to revoke the MISA order and release him forthwith. He was shocked that I had not obtained the chief minister’s order. I quietly told him that I was conveying to him the orders and he should immediately carry them out. I asked him to confirm the release within one hour.

Around 9 pm that night, the Chief Minister called me from Narnaul and asked me about the matter since I was trying to get in touch with him. I told him what had happened and that I had ordered the release of Mani Ram Bagri and that I was sending the file for his approval. The Chief Minister held the telephone silently for a minute and then he told me it was all right. The following day I sent the file up regarding the case and I got it back the next day with his approval.

Vol 1,Issue 1 | April 2007

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