NARENDRA Kumar was born on July 10, 1957, in Delhi’s Karol Bagh, in a family deep into poverty. His father Late Lila Ram Molparia, who had five daughters and three sons, was trying to find his moorings after migrating from Sindh, now in Pakistan, by setting up a small household unit for manufacturing ladies footwear.
Kumar’s initial schooling took place in a municipal school. He might not have studied further despite securing first position in Class V board examination, for his father had fallen sick with TB. The whole family was struggling for survival. It was his municipal school teacher who came to his help and got him admitted to government-aided Ramjas Higher Secondary School No. 5. He finished his higher secondary with first position in the commerce stream. His extraordinary interest in economics and finance took him to Sriram College of Commerce for B. Com (Hons). A few months after joining the college, he cleared a walk-in-interview for a part time passbook writer’s job in Chandni Chowk branch of Bank of India. A couple of years later, he earned a full time clerk’s job with State Bank of India’s Parliament Street Branch. Later, he joined evening classes at the Delhi School of Economics for Master of Commerce. His studies and jobs ran simultaneously.
In 1980, he appeared for three examinations—Probationary Officer exam in the SBI, exam for Assistant Administrative Officer in General Insurance Company and Staff Selection Commission exam for Customs and Central Excise Inspector—and got selected in all three. He preferred SBI and joined at its Satara branch in Mumbai circle. In July 1983, he lost his father and was transferred to Delhi regional office on compassionate grounds. Around the same time, in November, he got married to Veena, a graduate of Delhi University whose father was a first generation entrepreneur having set up a paints manufacturing unit in Mayapuri Industrial area in Delhi.
But after putting in seven years of service in the SBI, he realized that promotion avenues for the POs were very few. Moreover, Veena had been cajoling him to go for Civil Services Exams. Therefore, in 1987, he appeared again in three examinations—for combined Civil Services conducted by the UPSC, for Industrial Finance Officer, Grade B in IDBI, and for Deputy Manager (Merchant Banking) in IFCI—and cleared all of them. He was already 30 and age wise this was his last chance for the UPSC exam and in his first attempt he secured 4rth rank in all-India general merit with highest marks in Economics, which he had opted against strong and persistent advice of his friends since he had done his Masters in Commerce from Delhi School of Economics. This was incredible for another reason too as he had lost his first child just two months before the examination.
He credits his wife Veena and his reading habit for this success. “It was difficult to cope with the loss but my wife convinced me that only way to forget this tragedy was to get absorbed in studies. I studied for over 16 hours a day for 56 days. (Besides) I would read all finance newspapers and magazines,” Kumar recalls.
He joined as an IAS probationer on August 25, 1988, at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA). He remembers it like it was yesterday. “I joined on a Monday. My last day in the Bank was 23rd August, a half-day being a Saturday,” he recalls. He did his nine-month training in Nagaon district in Assam. In 1990, before he passed out of the LBSNAA, he had already improved his all-India rank from fourth to second.
He says, since he had secured 4rth rank in all-India general merit, he ought to have been considered a general candidate and allotted to a general vacancy in AGMUT Cadre. He recalls, he was allotted to Assam-Meghalaya joint cadre and the general vacancy in AGMUT cadre was denied to him to accommodate the daughter of the then Defence Secretary. He made a number of representations to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) but to no avail. Ultimately, he met the then MOS (P), P. Chidambaram, who got annoyed and asked him to go to court. While undergoing his district training in Nagaon, Kumar prepared his case and filed it in the Guwahati bench of Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). Against a battery of senior counsels of the Governmentt of India he argued his case personally and won the case.
HIS cadre was changed to AGMUT, but he was sent to Anini, a remote place in Arunachal Pradesh, near Indo-China border. He recalls, Anini in those days was not connected by road and had no electricity, television and not a single shop. In those days, wheat flour, rice, oil and kerosene would be airdropped. All other essential commodities were to be brought from Dibrugarh. Considering that no immunisation facilities were available in Anini, he sent his wife and two kids, Bhuvan and Bhanushri, back to Delhi. He reached the place in a helicopter from Dibrugarh and bought all essentials from Dibrugarh before flying. The weather was not good and he had to wait for more than a week before the helicopter sortie could take place.
During his stint, a 40-km road from Etalin to Anini was being constructed. Border Road Organisation (BRO) had finished formation cutting. Local people, including co-brother of an MP (Member of Parliament) and an ex MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly), in anticipation of development, started encroaching on huge tracts of land in Anini. The MP’s brother alone encroached on 10,000 square metres of land. Kumar removed the encroachments and allotted plots to 55 local landless tribal people. Around the same time, he also liberated some bonded labourers from interior villages. This enraged the duo. The two, he claims, engineered a bomb attack at circuit house on July 10, 1991. Luckily for him, the bomb fell in wet soil and caused no bodily harm either to him or his family members whom he had brought back to Anini in 1991.
Kumar spent one year in Anini and in October 1991 got promoted to ADM and given independent charge of Naharlagun sub division. In 1992, the state government upgraded the sub division into a district and renamed it Papun Pare and he was appointed the first District Magistrate. Thus within three years of passing out from the academy, he got promoted to the DM’s post.
BUT there was no earmarked house available for the DM. He got a 4500 sq. ft. bungalow constructed out of local fund despite stiff resistance from the then PWD minister in Arunachal Pradesh and the state PWD chief. In view of resistance from PWD he had to design the house himself. He floated a tender and got construction done under his personal supervision through L-1 private contractor in 7 months at a total cost of about Rs. 14 lakh. The state PWD later valued the building (excluding electrical fittings) at Rs. 35 lakh when it took it into its fold, for maintenance, recalls Kumar.
In March 1994, he joined Government of NCT of Delhi as Joint Secretary (Services). He drafted a detailed policy on transfers and postings of DASS and DANICS cadres and sent it to the office of the then Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana. But the file never returned. Apparently, the politicians did not wish to let go of their discretionary powers. In October 1995, he was posted in MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi). Within six months, he had three transfers due to action against unauthorised constructions. He decided to go back to Delhi Government. In his next posting as JS (Finance) with additional charge of Controller of Accounts and Director (Prohibition), he started pension adalats to solve long pending issues of retired government employees. He also started a campaign against alcoholism.
As JS (Finance) he prepared a comprehensive approach paper for power sector reforms in 1996-97. But the proposal remained confined in the file, gathering dust. Subsequently, when he became OSD (Officer on Special Duty) to Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit in 1999, he convinced her about usefulness of these reforms. The CM successfully pushed through these reforms, ending the era of long power cuts. In May 2001, he was posted as Labour Commissioner. He remembers vividly that more than 3,000 files relating to labour disputes were lying on the floor in Commissioner’s office waiting for disposal. In addition about 4,000 awards were lying pending to be implemented. He claims, in a short period of seven months, he not only cleared this backlog but also initiated action for drafting a bill for Delhi Escalators & Lift Act and for setting up of Delhi Building and other Construction Workers Welfare Board.
He recalls that in October 2001 he was given additional charge of Director, prevention of Food Adulteration. He saw a file seeking his approval for releasing a convicted person by compounding the case by accepting a fee of Rs. 25,000, as per directions of Justice RS Sodhi of the Delhi High Court. On being asked, the government counsel informed there were more than 50 such cases where High Court had entertained convicted persons’ petitions under Section 433 of the CrPC, which shocked him. He decided to file a SLP, by-passing the Law Department which too had been managed by these convicts earlier. SLP was admitted by the Supreme Court and he bunched all other cases with it. Later, he recalls, his stand was vindicated when he read in newspaper that strictures were reportedly passed against Justice Sodhi by the Supreme Court in 2002-03.
On January 9, 2002, he was posted as Excise Commissioner. Within a month, a hooch tragedy occurred in the Capital. When he studied two old Enquiry Commissions reports on hooch tragedies which had occurred in 1973 and 1991, he found that the then sitting High Court Judge’s recommendations on improvement of distribution network of country liquor was yet to be acted upon. He says there were only about a dozen country liquor shops in Delhi then. He was instrumental in devising a policy which aimed at breaking the nexus between bootleggers, local police, excise officials and local politicians. He claims the then Delhi ministers in the Cabinet meeting opposed the policy as they wanted status quo to continue. Chief Minister, Mrs Dikshit, however overruled them and approved most of the proposals.
This not only eliminated the threat of hooch tragedies, but also more than doubled the government revenues in the next couple of years. He recalls that on the issue of giving new excise licenses, he was pursuing the course of transparent draw of lots for private liquor shops while Minister Mahendra Singh Sathi had other ideas. He had a major confrontation with him on extension of existing wholesale licenses. He says that in 1995 the cabinet had taken a decision which granted Minister the licensing powers though as per law this power vested with his deputy i.e. Collector Excise. Kumar then restored licensing powers of Collector Excise by setting aside the cabinet’s decision through a speaking order. But Sathi had the last laugh and got him relieved for Pondicherry.
In August 2002, he was appointed Secretary (Industries and Commerce) with additional charge of Environment and Forest and Pondicherry Pollution Control Committee. Here he invited the wrath of powers-that-be on construction of a fishing harbor on beachside at Karaikal. As Chairperson of Pondicherry Pollution Control Committee he put the decision on hold due to objections from tourism department since the fishing harbour would have destroyed tourism potential where huge amount had already been spent on infrastructure. Kumar claims the then Pondicherry Chief Secretary, Late Padmanabham, blamed him for the decision in a meeting with the Chief Minister Rangaswamy.
IN August 2003, he joined the Government of India as Private Secretary to the then MOS (Telecom), Ashok Pradhan. NDA lost in General elections in 2004 and Kumar was repatriated to Delhi Government. Though he had got super-time scale, yet he was again posted to the junior post of Commissioner Labour and Employment. To his dismay, he found that all the initiatives taken in his earlier stint had been buried. He restarted work on Building and Other Construction Workers Act and got the Welfare Board set up. He finalised the draft bill for Delhi Escalators and Lift Act, which he had initiated earlier in 2001 in the wake of an accident at Palam Airport. He also put in place a detailed protocol for carrying out inspections in cases of labour disputes to end the unholy nexus between Labour Inspectors and outsider unions. He recalls that in the annual Labour Conference of the Ministry of Labour with trade unions he had suggested amendment in Contract Workers Act and Payment of Wages Act so that payments of wages were made to workers by contractors through cheque. His suggestion was turned down but he had his way by putting in a condition at the time of issuance of license to contractors that they will make payment by way of cheque.
In January 2006, Kumar was posted as the Divisional Commissioner with additional charge of Development Commissioner, Delhi. Here he faced the burning issue of handing over of land of Nangal Devat village to GMR Ltd. for the greenfield development of new airport. About 325 dalit families were kept out of relocation scheme though enough land at Rangapuri had been acquired. R Narainaswamy, the then Chief Secretary, convened a meeting to get the village vacated. While senior officers including Police Commissioner, Municipal Commissioner were being directed, Kumar asked the Chief Secretary how these dalits could be deprived of their habitational rights when they were neither encroachers nor squatters but original habitants of the village? A few months later he was transferred! When he asked Chief Minister she said Chief Secretary was not satisfied with his performance. Kumar showed the Chief Minister a paper on which Narainaswamy himself had written “I appreciate the efforts being made by Div. Comm. to tone up the functioning of Deputy Commissioner’s offices.” On October 9, 2006, he joined his new office of Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Industries, Government of Delhi.
In March 2011, Kumar was appointed administrator of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Under him, the UT administration launched three water plants, constructed flyovers, bridges, medical colleges, launched a clean Daman and Diu campaign and opened the first government college in Silvassa (Dadra and Nagar Haveli). The clean Diu campaign won the first prize from the Union Tourism Ministry, Government of India, after he left the place.
KUMAR spent over a year in National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) as Member (Administration). During this stint, he had the opportunity to look after highway projects of NCT of Delhi and Gujarat. He claims he solved problems being faced in the project of a new four-lane bridge over Narmada within three months and the work on the project started. Under his stewardship, toll revenue of the government tolled projects jumped up by 42 per cent due to plugging of loopholes in the tendering system. Gurgaon toll plaza on National Highway 8 was the cause of perennial jams and was removed during his tenure. Kumar retired as Financial Commissioner, Delhi, on July 31, 2017.
He currently holds the Constitutional post of Election Commissioner for Union Territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman Diu. His daughter, Bhanushri, and son, Bhuvan, are pursuing PhD in Economics and Biotechnology, respectively, in America.
As told to Narendra Kaushik