by Narendra Kaushik
IT was Allahabad’s infectious pull for civil services that put Sharda Prasad, son of unlettered farmer parents in Alampur Geria village of Fatehpur district, on the road to be an IAS.
Prasad wanted to be an engineer and had already completed Bachelor of Science (BSc) from Allahabad University when the competitive atmosphere of the Sangam city rubbed off on him. He enrolled for masters in Political Science whose syllabus was kind of amalgamation of five papers of Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination.
“I went to the Government Intermediate College, Allahabad, to do intermediate and then engineering but did BSc from Allahabad University with physics, chemistry and mathematics. It was here that the city’s infectious atmosphere had an influence on me. I joined MA in Political Science. Its syllabus was tailor-made for the civil services,” Prasad recalls.
But in 1975, a coincidence made Prasad join as Probationary Officer (PO) in State Bank of India (SBI). It so happened that during a playing card session involving 8-10 friends in his hostel, they noticed POs’ vacancies in a newspaper lying there. “We all filled up the forms but I only got selected. I served as PO in SBI for three years,” he remembers.
In 1979, Prasad appeared for the civil services but could get into Customs and Central Excise department only. In 1981, he cleared the civil services and was asked to report to Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie, on September 1. On August 31, he resigned as Superintendent of Customs at Patna airport and took a train to Dehradun.
During his training, the academy’s director was 1951-batch Bihar cadre IAS PS Appu. Appu instilled in him and others the value of character when he took voluntary retirement after the then Union Home Minister Giani Zail Singh reinstated a trainee IAS who the former had terminated for having misbehaved with a fellow woman officer. Prasad reminisces the trainee officer pointed gun at the woman officer during a trekking mission in the Himalayas. He says this was ‘one of its kind incident’ in the entire history of the IAS.
After completion of first phase (nine months) of his training in the Academy, Prasad was sent to Almora as Assistant Collector and Magistrate for a year. During this period, he worked with a Block Development Officer (BDO), a Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) and tried three civil, criminal and revenue cases each. For the criminal cases, he had to go to Nainital as Almora in those days appeared to be crime free.
After some months, Prasad was made the SDM of Baramandal sub-division. He lists drinking water and road among the most difficult problems people faced in those days. Since he was instrumental in providing water, women invariably would welcome him everywhere with an aarti. In winter, he was given a ceremonial milk bath at Jageshwar temple. After completing his on-field training of one year, Prasad returned to the Academy for 2nd phase of his probation (lasting three months). During this phase, a two-week army attachment also took place and he was sent to Kargil along with other batch mates where they learnt how to fire light machine guns and medium machine guns and how to work with army in times of an emergency.
On September 1, 1983, he was posted as SDM Jaunpur. He also had additional charge of revenue record room where fudging of records had become rampant. Prasad made it a routine to take at least a couple of rounds of the room during the day. On one such round, he found a lady advocate fiddling with the records. He got her arrested. Lawyers first in Jaunpur and then in Varanasi division launched a strike in reaction. But the incident put an end to the malpractice.
After spending two years in Jaunpur, Prasad was sent to Jhansi division as Joint Development Commissioner. Scarcity of drinking water was a problem in the arid region comprising districts of Banda, Jhansi, Hamirpur, Jalaun and Lalitpur. He distinctly remembers the happiness on faces of residents in Lalitpur when his team bored the first tubewell there with circulatory rigs. “People broke into a dance to welcome the gushing water,” he recounts. During his two-year stint, the division invariably bettered all other Uttar Pradesh divisions in implementation of 20-point programme and other development projects.
Subsequently, Prasad got transferred as Additional Commissioner (Rural Development) in Lucknow. His mandate was to implement Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP), Training of Rural Youth for Self-Employment (TRYSEM) and National Rural Employment Programme (NREP), Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme (RLEGP), Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) and other projects. His annual budget was a whopping Rs. 700 crore. Prasad says opportunities like these gave him the maximum satisfaction in the IAS. In three years, he claims to have brought down poverty levels by 12 per cent to 40 per cent. As well, he drafted a new scheme Ambedkar Gram Vikas Yojana under which 100 such villages where the population of SCs and STs was over 50 per cent were to be provided roads, drinking water and power, school, irrigation and other individual beneficiary oriented schemes. The scheme was designed on the principle that poverty at one place is a threat to prosperity everywhere. Initiated under Mulayam Singh Yadav government, it was so much liked by the next incumbent Mayawati that she created a separate department for its implementation. The department still exists.
Prasad’s next assignment was as District Magistrate Pilibhit, which in those days was afflicted with Sikh terrorism. He drew up a plan for security of banks in the district. Rajnish Kumar, the current Chairman of the SBI, was then a branch manager in Pilibhit. Recently, Kumar recognised Prasad in a meeting.
In subsequent years, Prasad worked as Commissioner (Land Disposal) in Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and generated in three-and-a-half years a surplus of over Rs. 2,000 crore, which over the years has grown to Rs. 35,000. He was Joint Secretary (Centre-State) in the Ministry of Home Affairs when Godhra incident took place in February 2002. Apparently, law and order became a major challenge for him particularly in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh), which was placed under President’s rule.
In later years, he served as Labour Commissioner in Uttar Pradesh and was instrumental in effecting major reforms. These reforms had a bearing on minimum wages, bonus payments and inspection systems.
IN 2006, Prasad returned to the centre as Director General (Employment and Training). Under his stewardship, the number of Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) doubled from 5,114 to 10,344 and training capacity from about 7 to 14 lakh plus and number of institutes for training of trainers grew to 30. Prasad retired on May 31, 2013, becoming the longest serving DG of DGE&T since 1945 when it was set up.
Subsequently, Prasad was appointed Chairman of a committee whose assignment was to suggest reforms in skill development systems and also served as Principal Advisor to Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister for one year. Currently, Prasad is Advisor (Skills and Livelihood) in Sagarmala Programme which is working on setting up new ports, modernisation of existing ports, port connectivity, port-led industrialisation and skills and livelihood.
Prasad, father of two sons, would want to be an IAS in his next life as well because that gives an opportunity and power to serve the poor.
As told to Narendra Kaushik
VOL. 11 | ISSUE 8-9 | Nov/Dec 2017