In 1981-82, I was on deputation at International Crops, the Research Institute in Hyderabad (I was getting my salary in dollars there). It was the only International agricultural Institute in India at that time. International Agricultural Research Institute was set up under the United Nations. There is a similar institute for wheat in Mexico, which had developed the dwarf variety of wheat, which contributed to the Green Revolution. There is a similar institute in Manila for rice which developed the IR8 variety of rice, which revolutionized rice. Rain fed agriculture was prevalent in India, so this institute was established to conduct research on such crops; the main crops were ground nut, chana, arhar, moong etc., mainly rain-fed crops. An IAS Officer is deputed to this project and I was the one deputed.
Before this, I was appointed as the Deputy Director of the IAS Officer training institute. I was there for 4 years from 1968 to December 1971. After this, I was deputed to Super bazar in Delhi (Super bazar was a cooperative society with more than 95% shares held by the central government; it used to sell various articles of daily use to the public), which was incurring losses at that time. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had ordered to close it down due to losses. I was given the charge of General Manager of super bazar and was ordered to turn it around, or else I would be sent to Bihar. With public goodwill and a bit of luck, we were able to turn it around, within the first year. The profits sustained for another 20 years, even after I was transferred from the organization.
I was sent to Iraq for 3 month, as an expert to advise them on intensive agriculture. In my absence, Arjun Das (who was a member of Congress) initiated few schemes at Super bazar. Earlier, we used to buy cheap wheat from a mill, at less than market prices and sell it. Arjun Das initiated a deal with Lakshmi Bai Traders, a person from his own area. Das ordered the deputy manager (of Super bazar) to finalize that deal. The deputy manager called me (as I was the General Manager) to take my permission, to which I replied “Who is Arjun Das to give any orders”, and we did not go ahead. The next day, the deputy manager got a call from Dhawan (Personal Secretary to PM) who was enquiring as to why Arjun Das’s orders were not being followed? Dhawan gave a verbal warning that if Das's orders were not implemented by 12 noon the next day, he would suspend the deputy manager as well as the General Manager of the store. Next day, I had a meeting and so reached office after 12, by that time the Deputy Manager had already processed the deal as per the instructions given to him as he was scared. I was agitated and wrote a letter to the IAS Officer Superintendent in Indira Gandhi’s office. I was considered to be interfering so I was sent to Bihar.
In the 1970s, we wanted to control the population growth for which Sanjay Gandhi launched the 2 children scheme, under which it was expected that by the year 2000, we should reach the norm of no growth in population. But Indira Gandhi lost election in 1977. And by 1984-85, Indira Gandhi was dead and Rajiv Gandhi had come into picture. Rajiv Gandhi was equally committed to this population control; however, he did not want the measures to be corrosive. His advisory board had come from the private sector, so they used the example of toothpaste where companies like Colgate and other soap companies, which used media as a medium of publicity to increase their product’s demand, so similarly, media should be used to create demand for family planning. This way we can control the population without any corrosive measures. Rajiv Gandhi had no confidence in me or in civil services in general.
Rajiv Gandhi had appointed Krishna Kumar, an IAS turned Congress politician, as Deputy Minister and he was given the charge of making a plan for population control. He gave his best into the plan, but his techniques were influenced by earlier techniques. Rajiv Gandhi was not satisfied with the plan. Rajiv Gandhi asked him for an alternate solution, which we were not able to provide at that time. In retrospect, the alternate solution was very simple. If we take Kerala as an example, we can see that an increase in women education automatically leads to a decline in birth rate, secondly, in Kerala the deliveries used to take place in a nursing home under doctor's supervision and not by the domestic help, which leads to a decline in child mortality rate and also safe births. This was one important event of our time. Looking back I feel Rajiv Gandhi was correct, it was our job to give solutions to this problem which we didn't.
In the late 1980's, there was a huge strike by the central government doctors. All the hospitals across India were shut down. The reason of this protest was that the pay scale of doctors was very low, for example the pay scale of the best consultants were equivalent to that of a Joint Secretary. And the highest position that the senior most consultants could achieve was that equivalent to the Joint Secretary.
The other services had better future prospects, example IPS could become IG etc., and so the doctor’s also demanded the same. We negotiated this with the finance ministry and others, and showed them that the best doctors were not even paid as much as the Joint Secretary, rather their payment was equivalent to that of a director and this is unfair. The pay scale of doctor’s was then revised, which led them to break their strike. Till date the doctors say that they have not seen such a revision in their pay scale, which we had got done.
(S.S. Dhanoa is a Retired IAS Officer, Bihar Cadre and former Election Commisioner of India)