Vol. 6 | Issue 4 |July 2012
arun kumar rath
‘Political interference can’t be removed’
After 30 years of service in various positions, retired civil servant Arun Kumar Rath says that an IAS officer should be an agent of social change
Almost three years after his retirement from the Indian Administrative Service as Secretary, Department of School Education & Literacy, Dr Arun Kumar Rath received a surprise packet from the Government of India. It contained all his Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) since 1974. These included his ACR in 1979 which graded him as one of the best commissioners. Though he at that time had a vague idea that his seniors were appreciating his work—no one told him upfront and he had no way of knowing. Now, 30 years later, it made him extremely joyous. But at the same time he lamented—why the government does not have a policy of informing the person then and there instead of after retirement when he can do nothing about it.
Dr Rath – a retired 1973 batch Bihar cadre officer and now Chairperson and Professor, Centre for Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility, International Man-agement Institute – was born in 1949. He makes it a point to keep fit and looks much younger than his age of 63. “I have been doing yoga and pranayam right from my school days and have moderate food habits, positive outlook and no extremes, which is very important,” he says.
“I have seen many people become inactive and inefficient after retirement. They feel frustrated, lost without the status, house, car, money and income. Honestly, I too felt it the first day I didn’t go to office. But from next day there was no looking back. For the last three years I have been doing something positive. Today I am busier than I was in government service. Assignments keep coming. Today I am on the board of three companies, Coal India Limited, ONGC and Mahanadi Coal Field. Apart from this, I am professor and Chairman, Centre for Corporate Governance, and have been on many corporate committees,” informs Dr Rath.
Coming from a non-descript, backward and predominantly tribal village Baripada in the erstwhile princely state of Mayurbhanj in Orissa, Dr Rath’s childhood played a significant role in determining his outlook towards people for the rest of his life. Though he came from a well-to-do business family, he had seen enough poverty and deprivation in the village to feel motivated to do something about it. His father, an idealistic chairman of the municipality, goaded him further into social service.
“I studied in a school promoted by my father. It was not the best school but my father said you must study here because if you don’t, how can I expect other children to study in this school. Here, I came across many children from poor economic background. Of course, I was not very happy as I was not allowed to join the best school and was in the second-best school that lacked many basic amenities.”
The poetic justice came that year when the best school did not produce the best results but young Rath topped the whole state. Once out of school, Rath wanted to pursue a career in physics, a subject he loved. But, destiny tested Rath by presenting him three career options – two in physics that might have required him to go abroad and the third IAS. No prize for guessing what he chose! “Today I have no regrets. I am satisfied that I have done a tremendous amount of public service,” he says.
“In spite of all problems of political interference and working in difficult areas, IAS still gives tremendous satisfaction of having done something to be remembered for. These are the advantages of civil service,” he adds.
‘For the last three years I have always been doing something positive. Today I am
busier than I was in government service. Many assignments keep coming.’
THE IAS, he feels, is a powerful instrument of social change where bright and motivated students, good in academics with imagination and having strength of character can make a tremendous change at all levels as SDM, DC and Commissioner and tilt the balance in the favour of poor. “I have been posted in some backward areas of our country as District Magistrate, Commissioner and District Collector. I always try tried to help the poor in terms of helping them get bank finance,” he explains.
“IAS officer is at the helm of affairs from day one. My first posting as a trainee was as the BDO in Darbanga district. When I joined the block, it was suffering from heavy floods. In those three months I did a lot of good work. It was a real challenge as even my office was flooded. The challenge before me was to organise the office, put together a team, organise relief materials, funds, etc.,” he says.
According to him, the civil services do not offer too much money and says if one just wants to be rich, one should not join the services. “Though after the 6th Pay Commission the salaries have improved, they are still not what people get in the private sector. So, if you are joining the service just for the sake of money you’ll be frustrated. In my time, the salary was even less but government used to take care of you by giving you a house, vehicle… so your basic needs were met,” says Dr Rath.
“You are an agent of change. You are joining a service to bring about a change in the society and the economy. There should be a certain amount of missionary zeal in you. Service gives you power to change. When you do something to transform the society, you get a lot of satisfaction. Yes, I am proud as I have done something good for the country. This is something no wealth can give,” he adds.
On the issue of political pressure Dr Rath says, “we should not forget that we are in a democracy where you cannot be insulated from politicians. When you do something, you could be working with a sarpanch, mukiya, or an MLA, who will point out if things are not going well. If you say this is political pressure, you’re mistaken,” he says.
Dr Rath also debunks the theory that transfers are motivated. “Sometimes you may not like your immediate posting, but when you say look back over 30 years such things balance out themselves. I may have got some indifferent postings, but I did get good postings as well. When I get a good posting I say I deserve it, and when I get an indifferent posting I say they have harassed me. I think one should take it as a mixed bag. One thing I learnt when I got one such insignificant posting was that there was also much work to be done. Like I was posted as Director Welfare and I remained there for two years doing tremendous work. The database that I collected proved very good for my academic work. So, it really depends how you look at it. Looking back, let me tell you that no competent officer remains neglected in any political scenario,” Dr Rath says.
“Political inference can be minimised but it can’t be removed because you have to work with them; in fact they are the pulse of the people. They can help you understand the people. If you are insulated from politicians, how will you work when you don’t know what you are doing? Who is benefiting? What is its impact? How do you know about it? Take politicians as people who give you feedback. They may speak in a language that you may not like, but they serve the need to tell you that whether your work is good or bad,” he says.
The civil services, thus, is a big learning curve, he feels. “If you are in civil services, particularly in IAS, you come across many new situations. There are no set of guidelines that can cover every eventuality. Training has its own limitations, particularly where you are dealing with human beings—human behaviour cannot be forecast. So you cannot have a rule book to follow,” he adds.
“I have learnt that a civil servant must have empathy for the people. You have to stand up for a social cause… if you are not doing so, you are redundant,” he explains. g
(As told to Neeraj Mahajan)