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First Stirrings : Upholder of uprightness

Prashanta Kumar Mishra, a 1972-batch UP-cadre officer from Odisha, faced at least three abrupt transfers in his career because he refused to give in to the malafide diktats of his political and bureaucratic higher ups

WITHIN three months from March to May in 2008, three IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officers took voluntary retirement from service (VRS) in Uttar Pradesh. These included 1971-batch controversial IAS officer Neera Yadav and a year junior to her, UP Chief Secretary Prashanta Kumar Mishra.

But the two took VRS for diametrically opposite reasons. Yadav took the VRS after being chargesheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a land scam and adjudged one of the three most corrupt officers by the UP IAS Association, while Mishra, a 1972-batch UP cadre IAS officer, known for being an upright officer, left the job within less than a year after being appointed Chief Secretary in the State due to his differences with then Chief Minister Mayawati over alleged corruption.

Mishra not only cancelled fraudulent allotment of over 105 plots in Noida to the ‘who’s who’ of then political and bureaucratic system under Neera Yadav as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Noida Authority, but also opposed Yadav’s application for VRS.

His VRS three months and eight days before his scheduled superannuation was yet another instance of how honest and upright civil servants become an eyesore for the country’s dubious politicians and babudom.

Earlier, in his around 36-year long service, the UP-cadre officer from Odisha faced at least three abrupt transfers in his career because he refused to give in to the illegal and malafide diktats of his political and bureaucratic higher ups.

Mishra imbibed the values of honesty, probity and accountability and perseverance from the joint family he was born in less than a year after India gained freedom from the British rule. He says, there were 50 members in his family in the village.

For him, civil services was a natural choice for a career. After all, his grandfather Mahendra Mishra, father Kishore Chandra Mishra and elder brother RK Mishra were all civil servants in their own right. While grandfather was a Tehsildar in administration of Athamallik (now part of Angul District in Odisha) kingdom, his father was the designated District Magistrate and Collector in the king’s administration and later coopted into Odisha Administrative Service (OAS) after Independence and made Deputy Collector. His elder brother joined the IAS in 1957 and later retired as Odisha Chief Secretary. Younger Mishra then was in class IV.

Yet, when he entered Class XI, there were at least a couple of his family members (his mother and sister-in-law) who wanted him to go into the medical stream and be the second doctor in the family. His uncle IC Mishra had earlier served as a doctor in the army during World War II. However, his trembling hands while dissecting a frog in his biology class during school put paid to the hopes of his mother and sister-in-law.

His elder brother kind of groomed him to be a civil servant. “He asked me to read newspapers when I was in class VIII. By the time I got into 10+2, he asked me to switch over to English newspaper The Statesman. Later, he asked me to read news magazines,” Mishra (68) recollects.

His brother once asked him jokingly, “Tutu (his pet name at home), would you like to be a dignified clerk like me or a philosopher like Bertrand Russel (British writer, critic and political activist)?” His answer was, he would be both.


IN a letter sent to him when he was studying in school in Bolangir (his brother was the District Collector there), his father gave him a free hand to do what he felt like doing.

“He told me to get into a field I liked,” he remembers.

His elder brother also stoked into him the ambition of getting into reputed Ravenshaw College in Cuttack. “Bhaiya took me to the college to show me the then Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who had come for an Indian Science Congress,” he reminisces. His father, uncle and all five brothers were educated in the prestigious college. He did his BA (Honours) in Political Science from it.

When he was in MA (Previous), he got selected as IAS probationer in Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (renamed from National Academy of Administ-ration) on July 15, 1972. In those days, his monthly remuneration stood at `400. But, since he had no extravagant habits-he was teetotaler, did not smoke or drink tea-he would send a part of it to his father and also invested a part of it into a life insurance policy.

Mishra learnt to withstand peer pressure within the LBSNAA itself. “Once my colleagues in the academy almost forced me to consume liquor. They only let me go after I threatened to report it to the Director (of the academy) and the Government of India,” he says.

His first posting as a probationer was in Gorakhpur. He reached the residence of the then District Magistrate, PC Saxena, in a rickshaw from the railway station. His poor Hindi made him a butt of jokes here.

After taking breakfast with him, Saxena asked him to be prepared for a ‘daura’ (tour programme) next morning. When he inquired what daura was, Saxena countered him as to how come despite being a Mishra from UP he did not understand the word. His struggle with elementary Urdu made him commit a faux pas once. “Once when a person walked into my room, I told him ‘tasveer rakhiye’ instead of ‘tashreef rakhiye’ (please sit),” he recalls.

His first posting as SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate) was in Bah, a sub-division of Agra. In one week, he was supposed to be based in Agra for six days. Since office rules did not allow use of government jeep for travel from residence to office and vice versa, he would walk around 14 kms every day. “I would walk 6-7 kms from the officers’ Hostel near Taj Mahal to the Collectorate and back,” he recalls.

During his next posting, as Joint Magistrate in Mahoba, he publicly took on a State minister. The minister was upset with him as he was a hurdle in his black-marketing business. “The politician spoke against me in public in my presence. I countered him by asking people, ‘Ye hazrat black-marketing karte hain ki nahin? (Is this gentleman into black-marketing or not?” he remembers, attributing his brashness to his immaturity.

Also in Mahoba, an octogenarian woman once complained to him about maltreatment by her son. The son happened to be an employee of his sub-division. He threatened to stop the salary of the delinquent man to bring him around.

In 1978, he was appointed District Magistate of Pauri Garhwal. He had to trudge 20 kms to take charge as the way was blocked by landslides. In the hilly district, he initiated farmers into cultivating mushroom, apple and walnut and provoked women to destroy local clandestine distilleries. During his posting there, he transferred Amin, a BDO (Block Development Officer) who would drink in office, to Tehri. But after a short while he himself got posted to Tehri.

In his next posting at Mirzapur (1980 to 1983), he got roads laid to connect the place to Vindhyavasini temple, a famous Hindu pilgrimage there. He also ensured that there was no pilferage of silver from the deity’s place.

In Agra (1983-1985), Mishra, along with the SSP and the District Judge, who had worked with his IPS father-in-law JN Awasthi, made sure that no Sikh was harmed in the aftermath of the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards.

Mishra imbibed the values of honesty, probity and accountability and perseverance from the joint family he was born in less than a year after India gained freedom from the British rule

“For 15 days, we patrolled through residential, commercial and religious places for over 20 hours a day. Later, the Sikhs felicitated me near Guru ka Taal in Sikandra town,” he recollects. He also recalls with moist eyes how a Sikh mother, whose son he had saved during the tension, brought sweets to his office after the frenzy got over.

He got into first major dispute with the State political class in 1986 over holding an inquiry into a corruption case as Director (Information). For next five years, he got to trot half of the globe as a Director in Department of Youth and Sports at the Centre.

Mishra returned to the State in 1991 as Commissioner (Sales Tax) and soon got into a confrontation with the top administration and ruling class. The latter wanted to give concession to new automobile units, which, according to him, was not possible without amending the law. This resulted in his first abrupt transfer. Next, he developed differences with the minister in Panchayati Raj because the latter, according to him, wanted to appoint some people in contravention of constitutional mechanisms. This resulted in his second sudden transfer.

In 1995, he was appointed the CEO of Noida Authority. A year later, the then State governor (State was under the President’s rule then) assigned him to conduct an inquiry into discretionary allotment of certain plots. He ordered cancellation of 105 plots and was transferred out very next day. In the next four years, he says, the powers-that-be foisted a number of inquiries against him. He eventually came out unscathed out of all investigations.

ON July 1, 2007, he joined as the State Chief Secretary in the Mayawati government. The first three months were good. Then, he opposed grant of VRS to Neera Yadav and sundry other decisions of the regime. After nine months, it became unbearable for him as the BSP supremo appointed a Cabinet Secretary (late Shashank Sekhar Singh) to bypass him on crucial decisions.

On May 23, 2008, Mishra took VRS from the job over three months before his retirement. For five years, till August 6, 2013, he served as a member of Union Public Service Commission.

Mishra lives in a modest house in a Noida sector with his wife Sarita and a daughter. None of his children-two daughters and a son-has chosen civil services as a career. His house seems to be a living example of his lifelong commitment to honesty and probity.

As told to Narendra Kaushik

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