I was named by my mother, who was very religious. She named my brothers Sri Bhagwan and Ved Bhagwan. After one of them died, her mindset altered and my youngest brother was named Brijender. I belong to a Vaishya community but never added this to my name. When my father, an advocate, admitted me to school, he entered my name as Vishnu Bhagwan Aggarwal. I asked him to let it be Vishnu Bhagwan. Nobody in Haryana knew that I belong to a Vaishya community. That benefited me a lot in caste-ridden India.
I was always very good in studies, standing first in my class. I studied at Ramjas School, Chandni Chowk, Delhi as we lived in Naya Bazaar. I topped the school in Class VIII. I did BA (Economics) from St Stephen’s College and MA (Economics) from Delhi School of Economics, but secured a second division both times. I joined LLB classes and started preparing for the civil services exam. My father had always wanted me to pass the IAS exam.
I appeared the first time in 1962 but could not make it. I think my options, economics and history, were not scoring. In 1964, I got admission in IIM, Ahmedabad. The schedule was so tight that I could not get time to prepare for the civil service exam. So I quit IIM and returned to Delhi. In 1964, I appeared for the IAS exam with law and economics as my main papers and passed.
In 1965, after completing training, I was allotted to the Punjab cadre. We joined service with missionary zeal. When I was about to join, the decision to divide Punjab was in the offing. I joined at Hissar, where my Deputy Commissioner was SK Mishra. My first independent posting was as SDM, Hansi. In 1966, Haryana was carved out of Punjab. The officers were allotted to the state they happened to be working in. I was allotted to Haryana.
After Hansi, I went as Deputy Commissioner to Bhiwani. Bansi Lal was then a young leader. I was his returning officer when he contested the Assembly election in 1968. I worked 20 years in Haryana and 15 years in Delhi with the Central government.
Haryana had been the backwaters of Punjab. Haryana postings were treated as punishment postings. Once Haryana had its own CM, fast development took place.The state developed under the dynamic leadership of Bansi Lal. He changed the perception about Haryana. He gave responsibility to young officers, and they worked fast. He was CM the first time for eight years. He was very meticulous. He moved from village to village along with officials, especially irrigation department officials. He knew more than the Secretary, Irrigation. After every visit he would hold meetings and instruct officers about the work to be done in various villages. He would ask officials to submit financial plans, implementation plans and human resource to work in the fields. He would order that the work be started at once.
As young officers, we ate dhaba food. Under Bansi Lal, Haryana came on to the tourism map. Good eating joints opened. He would issue orders and nobody dared speak. He was an autocrat.
I worked in the Agriculture Ministry. When Bhajan Lal was about to become Agriculture Minister, some department officials were apprehensive of working with him. When he did become Agriculture Minister, I became Joint Secretary, Policy and Planning. I asked an officer why he was afraid if he had never worked with Bhajan Lal before. I told him that Bhajan Lal would never pressure him to work against his will. “Most of the time, he will say do this work, and if you are not able to do it, he will not ask about it. But if some work has to be done by all means, he will call you and ask you to do it. If you say it can’t be done, he will say, ‘Fine, you write your comments on the file and I will overrule.’ So where is the problem?” I said. Many years later, that officer told me I had been right.
My most memorable work was done when Haryana had a disastrous flood in September 1995. I was Secretary, Irrigation and Power. I worked day and night and provided whatever was needed. The Chief Minister, Bhajan Lal, gave me everything I required. The successive government under Bansi Lal also took note of my good work.
When Bansi Lal was elected CM the second time, he suddenly became very fond of me. He would call me several times a day. I knew my limitations so I kept a low profile. There were discussions among bureaucrats close to him, but he did not listen to them. He appointed me Secretary, Education. I fully enjoyed this posting. I used to say, “Why have I not worked in this department earlier?” Another posting I enjoyed was in the Agriculture Ministry. I went to Rome as India’s representative in the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). I travelled a lot in that part of Europe.
My most memorable work was done when Haryana had a disastrous flood in September 1995. I was Secretary, Irrigation and Power. I worked day and night and provided whatever was needed. The Chief Minister, Bhajan Lal, gave me everything I required
I also worked as Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala. He has a wonderful memory and, like other Haryana CMs, he travelled the state. He launched the programme, Sarkar aapke Dwar (Government at your Doorstep). Whenever he returned from touring villages, he would call a meeting of the officers and, without help from any document, instruct them on what had to be done. He would remember names of villages, the villagers and the work needed.
I became Chief Secretary of the state for four months. Chautala wanted to appoint me earlier but somehow it was not cleared by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He offered me an extension of three months but I saw no logic in staying on only for three months. After retirement, I was Vice-Chancellor of Guru Jambheshwar University.
I would like to congratulate the leadership and officers who have been instrumental in the progress of Haryana. It is much ahead of many other states.
I have enjoyed every moment of my career in the IAS. My biggest strength was that I never sought postings. And, I never hesitated to express my opinion.
As told to Anil Tyagi
(published in gfiles, October 2009)