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First Stirrings : Quick response

Hailing from a family of civil servants, Atul Chaturvedi learnt early in his career that it was important to act in good faith to deal with emergencies


ATUL Chaturvedi, 66, was born in a family of civil servants. His father, PN Chaturvedi, was a PCS who was coopted into IAS. His father’s elder brother, BS Chaturvedi, was an IPS. His grandfather, Harcharan Chaturvedi, also a PCS, retired as Collector of Faizabad. His great grandfather, Visheswardayal Chaturvedi, was a Provincial Civil Services Officer as well. Yet, Atul, born in Jhansi, had no inclination to join the civil services until the day when KK Sharma, his father’s chief and Commissioner of Bareilly division, made a bonfire of his selection letter as senior management trainee.

“It was in the winter of 1972. I had been selected as senior management trainee in Hindustan Unilever. My father was then Collector in Bareilly. His senior, Commissioner KK Sharma had come to our residence for dinner. I showed my selection letter to him. He threw it into the fireplace and told me to sit for Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam. He became my motivating force,” Chaturvedi, the 1974-batch Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS, recollects.

A topper of Lucknow University in masters in Physics, Chaturvedi joined Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration on July 16, 1974, as a probationer. He was initially allocated Kerala cadre and did his requisite nine-month long training in Calicut district and also served as Sub Collector, Devikulam (Idukki district). Later, he got his cadre changed to Uttar Pradesh.

Chaturvedi though remembers his Calicut stint: “I got married to Kanak Chaturvedi before leaving for Calicut. It was an arranged marriage and my elder sister, Arunaji, approved Kanak before I met the latter at a dinner with her family. In Calicut, I stayed on rent. I visited the house after retirement. Everything has changed now except an old couple who recognised us,” he recalls.

Towards 1977-end, Chaturvedi was appointed Additional District Magistrate in Mirzapur. Here he realised why it was important for a civil servant not to wait for written orders for everything and act in good faith to deal with emergencies. The district faced severe drought in 1978. He was made in-charge of wheat distribution to prevent starvation deaths in what was then the largest district of Uttar Pradesh. The district included Sonbhadra then and the farthest point from the district headquarters was 241 km. Besides Mirzapur district, he distributed relief to remote parts of Garhwa (a district in Jharkhand that was then in Bihar), which were inaccessible from Bihar’s side.

After a while, he recalls, the wheat stocks were finished. Transportation of new stocks into the district through official channels would have taken very long. Since Mirzapur is on Delhi-Howrah train line, many wheat specials would pass through the district. After taking his Collector PN Agarwal in confidence, he asked the Station Master to stop the next wheat special and inform him. Thus, a wheat special meant for West Bengal was emptied in Mirzapur without proper orders.

Subsequently, he explained the situation to the then Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary DK Bhattacharya. The latter sent a replacement rack to West Bengal after talking to his counterpart there. Chaturvedi says, he also distributed drinking water through tongas and other means of local transport.

After serving in Mirzapur for 15 months, he was transferred to Lucknow and posted in Industry and Planning departments. During this stint, he was allotted a 500 square yard plot in Sector 15A of Noida, then an upcoming city. As the allotment rate was Rs. 75 per square yard, he paid Rs. 37,500 for the plot of land. In 1983, he was posted as District Magistrate in Bulandshahr, which then included Noida. One day he decided to visit Noida with one of his tehsildars to see his plot. They came via Surajpur and inquired from some pota cabins and villagers about the new city. But after hunting for several hours, they could locate neither the city nor the sector. He surrendered the plot that would have today cost over Rs. 10 crore.

Chaturvedi says he visited every village of the district and met all pradhans. He also takes credit for construction of Masjid Bazar in the city. Recalling how he became a catalyst for the construction of the bazar, he says, “The mosque’s floor was in bad condition. I asked its caretaker ‘why don’t you rebuild it?’ When he said, he had no money I told him to construct a market there. I inaugurated the market,” he reminisces. Today the mosque looks grand.

From Bulandshahr, Chaturvedi was transferred to Dehradun district. A PIL (Public Interest Litigation) was filed in the Supreme Court against limestone mining in the district. The court asked the district administration to stop it. He says he blocked all the accesses to the mines. After an officer sent by the court to the mines reported that mining was still on, a contempt notice was issued to him. He says he asked the officer about access to the mine and could prove that the report was wrong.

In 1985, Chaturvedi became the youngest Transport Commissioner of Uttar Pradesh State. In association with Transport Secretary, he introduced one-time road tax, abolished all India taxi quota system and quota for national permits for trucks.

After this, he came to the Centre on deputation and, among other postings, served as Counsellor in India’s permanent mission at United Nations for over three years. Later, he returned to UP and served as Secretary General, Administration, medical education, higher education, cooperatives, and Chairman State Electricity Board. Under him, the electricity board was divided into three separate entities—Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited, Uttar Pradesh Rajya Vidyut Utpadan NigamLimited and Uttar Pradesh Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited. He says he faced major opposition from electricity board employee unions and even litigation in the process.

IN 2000, Chaturvedi was appointed Joint Secretary (Textile Exports) in Delhi but a court did not allow him to leave the State Electricity Board until the division process was complete. As a result, the JS post remained vacant for nine months. He remembers his posting as JS for doing away with several tax exemptions.

His subsequent posting was as Principal Secretary (Commercial Taxes) in UP. He claims Mulayam Singh Yadav, the then Chief Minister of the State, gave him a free hand in tax collection. “As a result of non-interference, I gave him 38 per cent revenue growth,” he recalls.

In his next posting as Additional Secretary in Rural Development at the Centre, Chaturvedi oversaw computerisation of the ministry before the rollout of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS).

He claims to have made an effort for inclusion of Indian citizens in the MNREG Act, but the government did not agree to it. The Act, he points out, still does not specify whether the social security scheme is open only for Indian citizens. “The government wanted to keep it open for Bangladeshi, Myanmarese and Sri Lankan migrants in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Tamil Nadu,” he believes. Yet, he lauds Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Raghuvansh Prasad Singh as the best minister he worked with during his career.

Chaturvedi says that as Secretary, Department of Fertilisers, he took steps to break cartels that would take commission in urea imports. But he did not get along with MK Alagiri, his minister. The minister could understand neither Hindi nor English. “Alagiri wanted me to tell him whenever urea was to be bought,” he alleges. He believes his transfer was a fallout of DMK’s pullout threat to Manmohan Singh government.

Chaturvedi retired as Secretary (Steel) on August 31, 2010. After superannuation, he worked as Principal Advisor in the PMO, assist ing the government in the purchase of fertilisers. In 2011, he was appointed member of Public Sector Enterprises Board. In 2013, he became Chairman of the high-powered body. He then had a run-in with the then CBI Director, Ranjit Sinha. He complained to the Cabinet Secretary and the CVC against Sinha in March 2014 after the agency advised the board to postpone interview of candidates for the top post in Cements Corporation of India over some irregularities. He retired in August 2015.

As told to Narendra Kaushik

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