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The day he joined as an Excise Commissioner, a jeep of smuggler ran over and killed the Town Inspector (TI) but that did not stop him taking on liquor barons. He brought the element of uncertainty and today, the character of liquor trade has completely changed. His outstanding work in the implementation of ‘The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 was appreciated with PM’s Awards for Excellence in Public Administration. In an interview with our Special Correspondent Mohd Ujaley, Secretary, Department of Public Enterprises, O P Rawat says “Do not treat whole population as one monolith, think differently for different people, accept the diversity and meet the requirements and needs according to the level of understanding and endowment of people, only then you will be able to do justice”.
You have served in different departments of government of Madhya Pradesh and now you are Secretary in government of India. Are you satisfied with what you have been able to achieve?
I feel very satisfied for the challenges I faced, the opportunities I got and whatever little I have been able to achieve. As a secretary of government of India, I am looking forward to contribute positively in future.
Do you find any difference in working style and approach between Centre and State bureaucracy?
There are lots of differences. At state bureaucracy, there is no security of tenure, if you do one thing wrong or displease the Chief Minister even for once, you will get a change immediately. In the state focus remain on liking and disliking of the Chief Minister. So everybody tries to ensure that whatever CM likes is got done. Now in that scenario and system possibility of drifting here and there is quite high.
In government of India things are very different, here you are totally secure, system of posting and lateral shifting are so cumbersome that people feel very secure and they can give their honest objective opinion irrespective of their bosses thinking or liking. However, that is also another extreme because that can also be misused by people by assuming that nothing can be done to them even if they do not exert, do not go deep down into the issue and do whatever they feel is fine, such an attitude cause lots of delay and result in half-baked decision which ultimately affect the nation adversely. So both have some pluses and minuses, one has to somehow manage it properly.
There are officers who say Chief Ministers are more democratic and less Tughlaqi. Let me give you one example, no woman officer has been able to be Secretary of defence, home, commerce or cabinet. In an interview to this magazine Ms Sudha Pillai, Ex-Member Secretary Planning Commission and someone who came very close to be the first woman cabinet secretary said that there seems to be stated bias. What is your observation?
May be she was better placed to comment on this, but as I see, I don’t think this kind of bias is there. Any lady officer, coming up to that level, with that seniority and that kind of experience must be given charge of secretary for home or cabinet. They are equally capable of delivering the results.
Your tenure as an excise commissioner was appreciated for raising the government revenue and changing the character of Liquor trade across Madhya Pradesh. How challenging it was and how did you do that?
That was really very challenging because the vested interest in excise was so well entrenched that they made a click of 9 or 10 people and they would not allow any newcomer to enter the trade. Whenever there was an auction in any district, they would sit there with their gunman and lathi walas and ensure that no body enter for auction, that way they could hold the government to the ransom, and trap the revenue stagnant at around 700-800 crore for over 10 years.
When I was sent there as an excise commissioner, I replaced the whole system by transparent lottery method. I brought an element of uncertainty by fixing the price and getting away with auction. I said, I will fix the price and advertise that these are the licenses available with this price, let people apply. We said if there is single application, it will be allotted. For more than one application, transparent lottery system will be followed. That made so much of difficult for click walas to survive. In fact one group which had all the shops of 22 districts under auction system could not even get 22 shops in the state. They applied in the names of their cats and dogs but even then they could not get it.
That resulted in good people coming forward. Ex-army men, wife of good businessman entered the excise trade and today number is four thousand instead of nine. It also raised the revenue substantially from 800 crore in 2004 when I took over to the 4000 crore now. It not only improved 5 times, also the character of trade has changed. I remember the day, I joined, a jeep of smuggler ran over and killed the Town Inspector (TI), that was the courage of those people, now they all are gone, the good people have joined, even the character of the shops have changed, earlier it used to be full of shutter with a small window, now it is modern and westernize.
Very recently you were awarded by the Prime Minister for your work on implementation of ‘The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006’. How different and ambitious it was?
Again it was very challenging because we dealt with diverse group of people. In West, uniformity is there, majority of them are literate and educated. So all schemes and plans are made presuming that all of them are equally literate whereas if you look at us even city dwellers, there are many laws we are not well versed with, for example income tax laws and at times we fear getting hold up for making mistake in filing income tax.
Now think of the poor tribal who is living in jungle for ages, expecting him to know the law in English, to read the notification in English at the office of Deputy Commissioner and then object and suggest something and get hearing is absurd. That is why I consider that Recognition of Forest Rights Act is watershed law in the history of forest management. We translated into tribal dialect so that everybody understand the laws and we also made sure there involvement at Gram Sabha in decision making process.
Poor women in tribal areas cook in the morning, take the food with husband and go for labour. When they return in the evening, the husband might go to consume alcohol but women will have to cook again. Therefore she won’t have time to participate in Gram Sabha or any such decision making process. So we decided that there will be food available in the Gram Sabha meeting and entire village will be invited so that all women are freed from that labour of cooking again. There was 100 percent attendance that added to the transparency and objectivity.
For these poor people getting a cast certificate and other certificate were very difficult, they could not go to SDO office and waste their time. So we issued a circular saying that they will just write that they belong to a tribe, there was piece of evidence with them but now it’s no longer with them. Thereafter it will be duty of the officer to attest the cast certificate after verification so that no claim is rejected due to non-availability of certificate.
We also included new technology because serving such a vast area was very difficult. We utilized the service of Personal Digital Assistance (PDA) which can easily tell the longitude and latitude and bring the area map in one go. We collected four lakh records in a very short period and were streamlined to the extent that everybody claims was entertained.
Most challenging was giving the title deed – a paper. We found even after giving the title deed. When tribal went to cultivate the field, lower level bureaucracy was not sensitive enough and they did not allow them. When tribal showed the title deed, it was torned. Therefore we decided to give this title deed ceremonially at the hands of some minister or chief minister and side by side we also decided to give certificate that all the cases of encroachment against them have been withdrawn and whatever the property that was seized will be returned from the stage so that the message goes loud and clear to lower level bureaucracy that they must respect the title deed and should not tear it off and that really worked.
We also had media workshop, we informed them about the law and the way we were implementing, We told them if you find anything wrong anywhere please highlight so that it should come to our notice and we correct it and similarly we also took NGOs on board.
Do you agree that you succeeded because you respected their diversity and provided solution accordingly?
Very true, if everybody things like that and do not treat whole population as one monolith, think differently for different people. Accept the diversity and meet the requirement and need according to their level of understanding and endowment. Only then you will be able to do justice. We are not like west countries where there seems to be uniformity.
I believe you were in centre in 1993-1998 holding the position of Director in Ministry of defence. How was your experience in centre that time?
It was nice experience. I was procuring the items and equipment. I had good experience, I tried to do good things, in that order I suffered on one or two occasion. Procurement of weapons was tough because of the involvement of many people who have vested interests, but those challenges also made me learn a lot.
It is said that Madhya Pradesh government was so impressed with your efficient working that they were reluctant to release you for centre? How tough was that decision?
That was really a difficult decision because at times political executives become self-fish. If a person is doing good work, they try to have him with them because whatever the achievements would be there, government will get the credit for. During that process they forget that officer has career graph. They have to move on that career graph. I feel at times it is difficult decision for them also, my chief minister was very keen to continue with me but when I insisted, and he agreed.
Has there been any officer, may be your senior or super senior who inspired you?
Quite a few of them, they did very well, people are good and I took some senior officer in very high esteem. A K Pandya who has been Director General, Sports Authority of India, MB Lohani in Madhya Pradesh, Prabhat Kumar in government of India, there are many.
When you are not at work, how do you spend your time?
I love reading. Reading about people, process and good thing related to society. I also like walking in different areas. After coming to Delhi, I have seen so much area on foot, that way you see the people and the way they conduct themselves. Every time you change the trajectory, you see the new things and new way of life.
How did IAS come to you?
My father was teacher and my ambition was to become bigger teacher. So I did my master degree and some research, and tried to become the lecturer. But when appeared for interviews I was not selected, whereas I was topper of my university. So I was frustrated and became cynical about whole world. That was terrible time of my life then I thought of competition, so in one go I applied for all – Indian Forest Service, Probationary Officer of bank, Public Service Commission of state, and UPSC. When I got my first result and I almost top there, then I realized word is good, honesty is still alive if you deserve you get it and that resulted in my coming to IAS.
India is nation of young; people are talking about demographic dividend. How do you look at it?
Actually it’s a great opportunity for the country but somehow I feel our slow approach and slow decision making is letting this opportunity passed by. We are taking few decision and very late. We need to focus on master trainer and human resource. If we are able to train the people, India will become the supper. Time is running fast, those young people who are young today and if we can’t take decision on time they will ruin their life, we need to push very hard.
Every day you need a breakfast, lunch and dinner so if you can’t take the decision which can provide you food then you are finished.