A civil servant who embraced empathy

His emphasis on empathy, the culture of change and innovation for transformation, which went to define his career as a bureaucrat, are amply reflected in the essays contained in the book

V.K.Varadarajan Dec 02, 2021
Breaking Through New Earth; Author: Jatish Chandra Mohanty

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first Home Minister, famously called the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) the “steel frame” of good governance. He had in fact encapsulated a vision for the IAS to be citizen-centric and exhorted the officers to shed the legacy of their predecessors of the pre-Independence era when the civil services were seen as far removed from the common man. 

In his speech to the first batch of IAS only months before India’s independence, Sardar Patel said: “Your predecessors (during pre-Independence) were brought up in the traditions which kept them aloof from the common run of the people. It will be your bounden duty to treat the common man as your own.” 

Is the IAS living up to the vision of Sardar Patel? The dwindling reputation of the IAS seems to give an impression to the contrary. 

State of IAS 

Though there has been a notable success and the Indian growth story owes a great deal to the commitment of our civil servants, a lot of ground remains to be covered in transforming the bureaucratic machinery into an inclusive vehicle for bringing about a change in the lives of the people. Two Administrative Reforms Commissions and various committees and experiments notwithstanding the status quo lingers. 

In this scenario, a book by a former IAS officer, Jatish Chandra Mohanty, from the then undivided Andhra Pradesh, makes a refreshing reading, though its contents dwell on the principles of people-centric administration adopted by the author. 

Mohanty's recently published book “Breaking Through New Earth” makes interesting reading not for any sensational expose or revealing inside story of bureaucracy but for being different from the books usually written by bureaucrats as autobiography or memoirs. Its quintessential themes of a humane and pragmatic approach to administration run through the 10 thematically divided sections which in Mohanty’s words reflect a “culmination of valuable lessons learned, insights gained, and stories collected by him during his tenure and after". 

Battling rumour 

While the book takes the reader through the trying experiences of Mohanty in various circumstances, a few notable instances that tested his mettle merit mention. One of them is about his patience and determination in scotching a rumour in Hyderabad a few days after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. 

Mohanty, as the Managing Director of the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB), was flooded with calls throughout the night from the panicked citizens. There was no poison, but the rumours had to be scorched by assuring each caller that the water was perfectly safe for consumption. After his constant persuasion, an announcement was made on AIR resulting in the dwindling of the desperate calls. 

In another instance, as the Collector of West Godavari, he faced a trying time in arranging Scheduled Case certificates for two sons of a person who had come all the way from Chennai on a Sunday for immediate issuance of the certificates for submission the following day (Monday) in Chennai. They had only one day to comply with the stipulation. His request was both “unusual and non-compliable”. 

Overnight SC certificate 

The two sons had been selected for Class I jobs in the Indian Railways in Chennai. Although they had been provided work based on SC certificates provided in Chennai, they were told only the previous day about the requirement of the testimonials to be issued from the district they originated. 

Making an exception on “humanitarian grounds,” Mohanty sidestepped the standing instructions to issue such certificates only after a thorough check and verification, which would have taken a month. 

His emphasis on empathy, the culture of change and innovation for transformation, which went to define his career as a bureaucrat, are amply reflected in the essays contained in the book. 

Mohanty took voluntary retirement long before his superannuation in 2006. He tried his luck in politics by floating a party Samruddha Odisha and fielded a few candidates in the 2009 general elections. He now heads Gratitude India, a voluntary organization involved in social work. 

Title: Breaking Through New Earth; Author: Jatish Chandra Mohanty; Publisher: Wings Publication; Pages: 338; Price: Rs 799

(The reviewer is a veteran journalist) 

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