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The 'Yuggi' I knew: Memories from the past

The The ‘Yuggi’ I knew: Memories from the past
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I first heard of Yugandhar while I was an Assistant Collector (under training). He had been given charge of a district (Srikakulam) in the sixth year...

I first heard of Yugandhar while I was an Assistant Collector (under training). He had been given charge of a district (Srikakulam) in the sixth year of his service, a relatively early stage in his career. And immediately made a name for himself with the manner in which he dealt with the Naxalite movement in that district.

He was among the earliest to attempt to sensitise the political leadership, and the higher echelons of the administration, about the need to treat left-wing extremism more as a phenomenon of socio-economic origin than as an issue of law and order.

His close and empathetic contacts with the leadership of the movement were to make a lasting impression on his attitude towards developmental issues, an attitude that informed his approach to the various assignments he was to handle, till the end of his service.

The problems of the vulnerable sections of society and the backward regions of the country were always uppermost in his mind when he set about the task of policy formulation for the State of (the then) Andhra Pradesh, initially, and, later on, for the whole of the country.

I have described earlier the impact of the self-employment and training programmes devised by Yugandhar, and the challenges I faced while implementing them as Collector of Krishna district.

Buses were to be given to young people, and routes for plying them allotted to them, after cancelling permits in force earlier granted to private parties. Vested interests adversely affected by the move, managed to approach the highest political circles to get me transferred.

One can still find the buses allotted to the youth under the programme (SETWIN buses as they are called), moving about in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. He handled several assignments with characteristic dedication and a soft corner for the downtrodden.

He served a stint as an international servant in ESCAP of the UN at Bangkok. It was the contributions he made subsequently as Director LBSNAA, Secretary to the government of India in the Ministry of Rural Development, Secretary to the Prime Minister and, later, as Member of Planning Commission of India that won him laurels as one of the most distinguished civil servants of the country.

I had the privilege and honour of interacting with him on several occasions, both personally and professionally.One recollects walking across to his room when he was Secretary, Rural Development.

Discussions with him enriched my vision of the future of agriculture development in India, especially in regard to addressing the problems faced by the small and marginal farmers, and the need for shifting attention to dry land farming and rain fed agriculture.

Later on, then I was posted as an Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Rural Development (dealing with Land Resources), Yugandhar's enormous knowledge and in-depth experience in the field of watershed development, wasteland development, desertification issues, maintenance of land records and land reforms proved immensely valuable in the formulation and implementation of the Department's programmes.

Then, and later on as Chief Secretary of AP, one learnt about the activities of WASSAN, a brainchild of his, which blazed new trails in the field of natural resource management. The exchanges I had with him when he was Member of the Planning Commission opened up entirely new vistas of comprehension of the issues and challenges facing the country – especially in regard to women, children, poor people and the backward areas.

Despite his vast and varied experience and his passion for raising the standards of living, our people and development of the backward areas of the country, he remained easily accessible, friendly and warm as a person. I remember with great fondness and pleasure many a pleasant evening spent over a couple of drinks, discussing important issues facing the country.

His erudition and down to earth knowledge of grassroots realities added immeasurable value to the exchanges. And his keen and sharp sense of humour made conversation easy. Mrs. Yugandhar's effusive hospitality made the experiences totally unforgettable.

In many ways, he was a great representative of the generation that bridged the old school, dyed -in-the-wool civil servants of yore, and the IT savvy and Harry Potter- loving IAS officers of today.

From the early days of the service till the very end, Yugandhar never let go of an opportunity to widen and broaden his understanding of people, places and philosophies. He constantly stayed abreast with developments in the field of socio-economic development, especially of the weaker sections and backward areas.

Strangely enough, two people, not quite with the same attitude towards personal or professional matters, had a profound influence on this thinking and work. One was the inimitable Abid Hussain, who was known for his flamboyant charm, breezy and bubbling personality and an extraordinary ability to influence people.

The other was the self – effacing, diminutive and almost saint-like, SR Sankaran who devoted his life to the welfare of the downtrodden. Also strange is the fact that, given his well-known socialist proclivities, his son should have risen to the very top of the dizzying heights of the corporate world at the highest international levels!

Multi-faceted personality that he was, Yugandhar's absence will be felt sorely by everyone who knew him, and many, many more who had no personal contact with him. His memory will be perpetuated most of all by the hundreds of civil servants who received their initiation at his hands.

Charged with fire in their bellies, thanks to the inspiration he provided them, they have fanned out to every nook and corner of this country. In every worthwhile initiative that they take, and in the heart of every person whom they help, Yugandhar's memory will live forever.

(Part 11 of 'Clampdown in Kashmir defies civil liberty' will appear next Thursday)

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

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