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Coming Together of Young, Bright and Passionate Minds

IT seems just like yesterday, when on August 19, 1990, I boarded the overnight bus from ISBT Delhi to Mussoorie. The journey, though just a few hours long, was the one that transformed me for life-from a university student to an officer of the Indian Forest Service.

The next few months at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, as we underwent our Foundation Course training in the salubrious climes of Mussoorie, went by like a dream. The stern Academy Director, Yugandhar, our much feared but also much admired Course Director, Dalal, and, of course, the tough as nails PT Instructor, Rana, were the constants in our life during this period.

But more than any training, what really did change me the most was the company of so many young, bright, passionate and enthusiastic minds, each with unique ideas on contributing to nation-building. We began as incidental colleagues, all thrown together in the whirlwind of a foundation course. But, I am very happy to say, most became friends and have remained so after 25 years.

Our monthly lunches and Annual Meets have been eagerly looked forward to. This Silver Jubilee Reunion will only make our bonds stronger. We’ve learnt so much from each other during the Academy days and subsequently.

1990: The Year That Was

President: R Ventakataraman (1987-1992)
Prime Minister: 1. VP Singh (Dec 2, 1989-Nov 10, 1990)
2. Chandra Shekhar (Nov 10, 1990- June 21, 1991)
Cabinet Secretary: 1. VC Pande (Dec 23, 1989-Dec 11, 1990)
2. Naresh Chandra (Dec 11, 1990-July 31,1992)
Election Commissioner:
1. RVS Peri Sastri (Jan 1, 1986-Nov 25, 1990)
2. VS Ramadevi (Nov 26, 1990-Dec 11, 1990)
3. TN Seshan (Dec 12, 1990-Dec 11, 1996)
RBI Governor:
1. RN Malhotra (Feb 4, 1985-Dec 22, 1990)
2. S Venkitaramanan (Dec 22, 1990-Dec 21, 1992)
Population : 84,39,30,861 GDP : $326.6 billion Growth rate : 5.51 per cent GNI : 1160 PPP USD

It was a turbulent year for India economically, politically and socially. The crisis that had been building during the last two decades unfolded into a serious situation as the country went near bankrupt with just enough foreign exchange to last for a week which eventually forced the Chandra Shekhar government to seek an emergency loan of $2.2 billion from the IMF by pledging 67tonnes of India’s gold reserves as collateral. RBI airlifted 47tonnes of gold to the Bank of England and 20tonnes to the Union Bank of Switzerland to raise $600 million. National sentiment was outraged when it was learnt that the government had pledged the country’s entire gold reserves against the loan. Interestingly, one of the vans carrying the gold broke down on the way even as a chartered plane awaited it at Mumbai airport. The actual airlift of gold took place under the PV Narasimha Rao government that came to power after the fall of the shortlived Chandra Shekhar government. It was this economic crisis which forced the new government under Rao to begin reforming the national economy with Manmohan Singh as the finance minister.

The social scene in the country was no less turbulent, particularly after VP Singh announced the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations for backward class reservation. It opened the floodgates of competitive caste-based politics in north India. The political scene in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and elsewhere has not stabilised since then and the after-effects of the Mandal Report are still causing tremors all over.

Politically, 1990 and the next year witnessed a lot of churning as two governments fell in quick succession and political give-and-take became the norm. Alliances were formed and broken in ruthless power games and party chiefs changed sides to gain advantage until Rao brought some stability even as he headed a minority government. He kept his government propped up by recklessly buying support of opposition MPs, a fact that was soon discovered and led to action against several members.

Perhaps the most important event of historic consequence of the year was the beginning of the world wide web, or the internet. Here is a brief list of such and similar events of the year:

  1. British scientist Tim Berners-Lee, working with the European nuclear research facility, CERN in Geneva,
    Switzerland, writes the first web page.
  2. Prime Minister VP Singh announces implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations to reserve 49 per cent of government jobs for the OBCs. Over 70 persons die in protest riots.
  3. Terrorists drive out 90,000 Hindus from Kashmir.
  4. Ernakulam becomes the first fully literate district in the country under Operation Flood Light, conceived by District Collector KR Rajan (d. 1997).
  5. Air India lifts 1,70,000 Indians home from Kuwait on 488 flights in 59 days as Iraq annexes Kuwait. With that, Air India enters the Guinness Book of World Records for evacuating the largest number of people.
  6. Communism is dismantled in the Soviet Union, Poland, Bulgaria, East Germany, Lithuania, and so on.
  7. JK Rowling gets the idea of Harry Potter while travelling on a train from Manchester to London’s Euston railway station.
  8. Bell Lab, New Jersey, US, creates the first Digital Optical Processor.
  9. First McDonald’s opens in Moscow.
  10. Smoking banned on all flights and bars in the US.
  11. Nelson Mandela is released from prison after 27 years.
  12. Microsoft releases Windows 3.0.
  13. Nawaz Sharif sworn in Pakistan Prime Minister after Benazir Bhutto’s party loses October election.
  14. European continent (France) and UK are linked by an underground tunnel.

On the professional front, I went on to Uttar Pradesh and later Uttarakhand, specialising in Wildlife Management. I have been very fortunate to serve in some of the most beautiful and challenging Protected Areas, including Rajaji National Park (now Rajaji Tiger Reserve), Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and the Corbett Tiger Reserve. The opportunity to contribute to policy-making across various levels has had its moments of quiet satisfaction. A Fulbright-Nehru fellowship has been a special moment on this journey.

A lot is written about government service and government officials these days. Much of it is not at all complimentary. From an insider’s perspective, all I can say is that this vocation has given me a unique opportunity to know my country and its people better and the chance to serve them in my own small way.

Working to ensure the ecological security of my country is a lot of hard work and my journey has had its ups and downs like any other. But with companions such as musk deer, Monal pheasants, tigers, elephants and the like, I am not complaining at all!

Samir Sinha is Chief Conservator of Forests & Director, Corbett Tiger Reserve

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