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Among the first of the doyens

Sardar Saran Singh, who turned 95 recently, became an IAS officer just as India attained independence in 1947, making him one of the senior-most IAS officers in the country today

Saran Singh

AS we mark the 95th birthday of a man who made exemplary contribution during his service and subsequently to the society, we have amongst us one of the senior-most IAS officer present in the country today.

Born in Peshawar (North West Frontier Province), Sardar Saran Singh studied at the Forman Christian College, Lahore, during 1940s, and achieved many distinctions, including Punjab University Gold Medal in BA (Hons) and a First Class First in MA. He later joined the Royal Indian Navy in Bombay where he worked for eight months. Saran Singh, after completing his graduation, took his first ICS (Indian Civil Service) examination as it was called in those days, before the country achieved its independence in 1947. Saran Singh used to cycle 6 miles every day to attend classes at Lahore University. Soon after, the fire of Partition ignited. In August 1947, India got divided into two countries. During this time, Saran Singh managed to escape to the newly declared India just in time after writing his last ICS paper. He left with a small suitcase full of books, clothes and bare essentials and without knowing what happened to his results.

He underwent his training at Metcalfe House, Delhi, thereby becoming a part of the first batch of IAS of independent India. After completion of his training he was allotted to Bihar Cadre. His first posting was at Bhagalpur, where most of the people had hardly ever seen a Sikh before

He reached Delhi thinking that he would have to start his life all over again, but fate had something else in store for him. The results were declared and after a couple of obstacles, the authorities were able to locate him and he was informed that he had not only cleared his IAS examination with flying colours but had also achieved distinction in three subjects. He recalls an anecdote that he could not excel in his IAS interview because he was wearing a mismatched suit due to the lack of clothes he carried with him during Partition.

He underwent his training at Metcalfe House, Delhi, thereby becoming a part of the first batch of IAS of independent India. After completion of his training he was allotted to Bihar Cadre.

His first posting was at Bhagalpur, Bihar, an area where most of the people had hardly ever seen a Sikh before. The First Batch of IAS officers had the humongous task of holding the first elections of Free India in 1951-52; it was nothing like anyone had ever seen before. The officers had to move from booth to booth either by foot or in carts, and the counting was watched by huge crowds at Buxar.

In 1954, Saran Singh was appointed as Deputy Commissioner of Dhanbad. During this tenure, he hosted many international leaders who would come to visit the showcase projects of India’s industrial development—the Sindri Fertilizer Factory and the Damodar Valley Corporation dam.

When the Kosi River was flooded, he handled the flood relief and rescue work in Darbhanga. He had to move around on an elephant to distribute relief materials to the people affected by this calamity. The DC years never had a dull moment for him.

He then went on to other memorable stints, including as Joint Secretary Agriculture during the Green Revolution. Due to his outstanding and diligent service, he went on to become the Chief Secretary of Bihar in 1974.

On deputation to the Government of India at New Delhi, Saran Singh served as the Secretary to, successively, in the Ministries of Steel, Social Welfare, and the Department of Textiles, before retiring in 1981. He was subsequently appointed Adviser to the Governor of Assam (February 1982 to February 1983) during the President’s Rule in the then troubled state.

Saran Singh represented India at a number of international conferences under the auspices of FAO / United Nations, including as Head of Delegation to the “UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Treatment of Offenders”, held at Caracas (Venezuela). He was elected Chairman of the UNICEF Committee for Administration and Finance, UNICEF, for 1980-81, at UN HQ, New York. After retirement, he settled down in Kolkata, where he stepped on to become the editor of one of the most popular Sikh magazines, the Sikh Review, apart from being the president of Sikh Culture Centre, Kolkata.

Saran Singh is widely respected for his incisive analysis of, and forthright approach to, national and Panthic issues. Through his enlightened editorials and careful selection of material published in the Journal, he has made a significant contribution towards propagation of the beneficent message of Sikhism—as a World Religion. He was invited to attend the International Congress of the World’s Religions, held at Chicago (USA) in 1993 and also in its next session at Barcelona (Spain) in 2004.

During the World Sikh Sammelan held at Amritsar in September 1995, Saran Singh played a key role in steering and obtaining consensus for the concept of the World Sikh Council, which has since been formed. On Oct 8, 2011, he was conferred with “Shiromani Sikh Lekhak Sanmaan” by Sri Akal Takht Sahib, Amritsar, the highest temporal Seat of the Sikhs. More recently, the United Kingdom-based ‘World Sikh University, London’ conferred on Sardar Saran Singh the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, even as he turned 90!

A Lifetime Achievement and Sikh Icon Award was presented to honour Saran Singh by IHA Foundation at Kolkata on September 15, 2018, conferred upon him by its chairman, Satnam Singh Ahluwalia and other Sikh Dignitaries.

Courtesy: Humans of LBSNAA FACEBOOK

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