WHEN Brijesh Kumar of the 1968 IAS batch, Uttar Pradesh cadre, passed out of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, India was going through a period marked by shortages. Cement would be given on permits. Vanaspati ghee and fertiliser were in short supply. Even sugar would only be distributed through ration cards. The steel frame of India had powers to issue permits for cement, ghee and other essentials. People would ask for favours. Politicians would approach bureaucrats to pull strings for them. Apparently, they had immense powers at their disposal.
Yet this was also an India high on the green revolution. A direct fallout of which was that Kumar’s batch of officers had to undergo an extra four-month course in agriculture and rural development at the Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Nainital, after passing out from the Academy. “We were taught ploughing and cropping and even got to drive tractors,” recollects Kumar, who retired over a decade ago after serving in the Uttar Pradesh government and at the Centre for close to 36 years. The agriculture course made many officers wonder whether they were training to be servants of the people or feudal lords.
Kumar began his innings as Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) in Gorakhpur and went on to serve as Joint Magistrate in Lalitpur before becoming District Magistrate (DM) of Sultanpur. He spent three years there and drew a salary of Rs. 900 per month. During this period, the first petrol price hike was announced and the Bangladesh war started. Kumar says he was redesignated Civil Defence Officer for Jhansi during the war. His job was to do contingency planning and prepare people for blackouts and air raid alarms. Since television had not yet made an entry, Kumar would be glued to the radio for news.
In the late 1960s and ’70s, the mental attitude of politicians was to get more favours for their constituency. “They would seek 80 per cent of favours for the public and 20 per cent for themselves. Now the ratio has changed to 20:80,” he claims. During the first six years of his service, he listened to the people. “The DM is supposed to listen to them even if their grievances are unsolvable,” he says. With the declaration of Emergency on June 25, 1977, people stopped coming to the DM for fear of arrest.
Kumar had his only confrontation with the political class when he was appointed managing director of Pradeshic Cooperative Federation (PCF) in 1980. His minister was a Brahmin from Balia. He says the minister would take money for postings and transfers of cooperative secretaries. The two were at loggerheads. “He never approved what I sent to him and I would not let anything go through which came from him,” he recounts. The tipping point came when the minister, according to him, started hounding a particular member of the Selection Commission for Cooperatives and passed an order against the latter. Kumar says he complained to the chief secretary. Nothing came of it. But after the Selection Commission member moved court, the then Chief Minister, VP Singh, got to know about it and the minister’s order was withdrawn.
The first high point of his career came in 1982 when he was made in-charge of the UP Dairy Federation for five years. Kumar replicated the Anand pattern in the state and milk procurement for Parag Dairy shot up from some 30,000 litres to 3,00,000 litres. He began with six districts of Western Uttar Pradesh and was supposed to extend it to 28 districts. A computerised payment system was introduced for the 3,000 milk cooperative societies. He, along with his minister, Sanjay Singh from Amethi, insisted on collection of clean milk. Subsequently, he served in different departments—Secretary (Technical Education), Secretary (Food) and so on—till 1992 after which he was deputed to the Central government.
The second high point Kumar recalls was his posting in the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation in 1992. This was a time when the skies were opening up. Indian Airlines was in a bad shape. Passengers and pilots were moving out. In May 1993, he was given additional charge of the airlines after the CMD resigned. He reinvented the old workhorse and convinced the airlines’ staff to improve its interface (airhostesses and pilots). A German company trained 22,000 airlines employees on mental attitude. Kumar says internal efficiencies improved in the airlines and Sunday, then a weekly magazine, ran a story with a headline, “Smile in the Sky”. He also served as managing director of Air India for one year.
In April 1998 he returned from the Centre to head the Greater Noida Authority as Chief Executive Officer. Greater Noida was still in its infancy and not many people were living there. The authority itself was operating from Noida. He remembers travelling to the city along with his wife, Rekha, one evening.
“We came to the city via Surajpur which was then a thriving town. It was pitch dark and frightening. The first thing I ordered was installation of street lights on the entire stretch,” he remembers. The objective of the authority was to develop a city where supply would exceed demand and people would not encroach on green space and would not dump their waste in the open. The authority till date maintains greenery and collects garbage from door to door.
KUMAR claims he made provisions for introduction of a bus rapid transit system (BRTS) between Noida and Greater Noida on a 130-metre road and replicated certain features of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe in Knowledge Park 3. He says the BRTS corridor still exists on paper. He ensured quality of roads by inspecting their macadam surface himself.
However, his biggest challenge was to bring people to live in the city. He claims to have heard people say, “The authority is operating from Noida and wants us to live in Greater Noida.” In October 1998 he decided to construct a new authority office. The office was built in three months. It was supposed to serve the authority for three years. But till date, the Greater Noida Authority operates from there.
Next, Kumar convinced Mahesh Sharma, owner of Kailash Hospital in Noida (currently Union minister of state for tourism) to build a hospital to cater to the local population. The Greater Noida Authority under Kumar sold commercial areas and set up new residential sectors. On May 1, 2002, when the Mayawati government took over in Lucknow, he shifted to the Centre again. He demitted office in June 2004 as Secretary, Information Technology.
Today, Kumar resides in Greater Noida at the same spot he visited in 1998 during one of his initial forays into the city.
As told to Narendra Kaushik