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Administrative adventures

This book by a retired officer of the Andhra cadre is a timely reminder that vikas is an ongoing process that requires the cooperation of both legislature and executive

Contrary to the image of IAS officers being arrogant procrastinators, 1982 batch K Pradeep Chandra’s memoir Tiger Hunting Stories reveals what a proactive officer can achieve if he is sincere about his job. The alumnus of IIT-Madras recalls that his father, also from the civil service, had told him, ”If you can make a concrete difference in the lives of 100 people, you would have some meaning in your life.”

During his years in the Andhra Pradesh, cadres, he set out to achieve this goal, sometimes sanctioning housing for tribals in a remote village, at other times, straightening out the public distribution system, providing irrigation to agitating farmers. As the blurb says, “Although personal, this memoir furnishes readers with a glimpse of society in India in both its vulnerable and glorious moments.”

In the excerpt below, he brings the academic year back on track by securing the cooperation of a ‘tigress’, politician Renuka Chowdhary. There are many such instances of how much development can be achieved if the bureaucracy and the people’s representatives act in tandem instead of being at loggerheads.

I assumed charge as Director of Technical Education (DTE) in November 1988. I was pleased, as getting such an important post at such a young age was a great opportunity. It also spoke to my ability and competence, as someone as senior and tough an officer as PK Doraiswamy thought I was good enough to occupy that post.

The post of DTE was an important assignment for me. The main focus of the DTE was on the 56-odd government and private polytechnics in the state. In 1979, the government also gave permission to about 12 self-financing engineering colleges and the coordination of private engineering colleges and polytechnics was also entrusted to the DTE. For a person with an engineering and management background, the post of DTE was most appropriate.

One of the main problems afflicting polytechnic education was the slippage in the academic year. The three-year polytechnic diploma course invariably ran into four years. Every effort to hold examinations in time went in vain and the students of just two colleges were responsible. Like REC Warangal, which was a hotbed of naxal activity, the Government Polytechnic at Warangal, along with the Masab Tank Hyderabad Polytechnic, were also a leftist stronghold. The Progressive Democratic Students Union (PDSU) was very active in student union activities. However, many also saw it as a feeder organization to naxalites.

The ability to stay in the hostels may have been an incentive for them not to complete their education in time. The other reason was the provision of lateral entry for polytechnic students into engineering education. During those days, engineering education was tightly regulated and students at the +2-stage had to write the Engineering Agricultural and Medical Common Entrance Test (EAMCET) entrance exam for engineering admission.

The ratio of seats to students writing the EAMCET used to be about 1:8. However, there was a three-year engineering course for polytechnic diploma holders through an exclusive entrance exam called the ECET (Engineering Common Entrance Test). The ratio of seats available was about 1:3. Many polytechnic students joined the diploma course only as a shortcut to engineering degrees and had no interest in finishing the three-year diploma course in time, as long as they made it to the schedule of the ECET. Each time some reform was announced, the students would agitate and create chaos till the reform was withdrawn.

I had meetings with the teachers of government and private polytechnics and also some of the student unions. Over a two-year period, the academic year was expected to be brought back to normal, i.e., students joining in July and graduating in April after three years. There was general consensus that this was a good idea. But it was not to be—within four months, when the first set of exams was to be conducted the Masab Tank polytechnic students demanded that the exams be postponed, ostensibly on the excuse that the syllabus had not been completed. The teachers had taken extra care and every principal had reported that the syllabus had been completed.

A delegation of students came to meet me. They had the usual excuses and I countered each with facts, figures and logic. After a couple of hours, they decided I would not bend on this issue and went away threatening me with a strike.

Soon a tent was put up outside the Masab Tank Polytechnic gate and a strike was announced. In the meantime, a writ petition was filed in the high court by some parents demanding that the exam be conducted in time. I ignored the strike as in most of the state the students were preparing for the exams. The Masab Tank students were getting desperate and they approached Renuka Chowdhary.

Renuka Chowdhary, Member of Parliament and former minister, was a firebrand politician. She had spontaneously taken to the streets protesting the unfair dismissal of the NTR government by governor Ramlal in 1984. She was known to be a tough-talking, no-nonsense woman and was quite a terror.

The principal of Masab Tank Polytechnic told me that Renuka Chowdhary was sitting with the students in the strike tent. Soon she came into my office. After pleasantries, she asked me what the strike was all about. I had to give her credit that she heard my side of the story, asked me many questions and I gave her detailed replies.

Finally, she told me she fully agreed with me but now that she was involved, she asked for some concession. We agreed on a 15-day postponement of the exams and she went back to the agitating students, telling them to call off the strike as she had extracted a 15-day postponement. The students did not agree to this compromise.

The principal later told me amid huge laughter that Renuka Chowdhary, in order to tackle the mess, did something unbelievable. She faced the students, roared in Hyderabadi to them to make their peace since the authorities agreed to meet them halfway and sternly drove them away.

The strike was called off and the exams went off peacefully — albeit with the delay. Small steps for that exam but a giant leap towards academic normalcy, thanks to the intervention of Renuka Chowdhary. Lesson learnt — all politicians are not against administration and for the agitating masses — one has to make the compromise necessary to achieve a solution without jeopardising the main goal.