Ashis Sanyal, Former Senior Director, Department of Electronics and IT
R Chandrashekhar, former secretary DeitY and DoT, has been a great Patron and a source of inspiration for CSDMS and Elets for many years. We have been enormously honoured and benefitted from his mentoring and guidance in all our activities. On his retirement from active government service, we are very happy to publish this Profile as a tribute to our long and fruitful association, written on a unique personal note by his former colleague and e-Gov Consulting Editor Ashis Sanyal.
It was an early February 2002 afternoon when I received a call from the PA of Additional Secretary (AS)Mr Lakshminarayan, that AS wanted to see me immediately. Wondering about the reason for AS suddenly calling me when I entered his chamber I saw a lean gentleman sitting opposite to AS and they were talking. Seeing me entering the room, AS, without any formal introduction, told that gentleman, ‘so Chandrasekhar, I am posting this energetic officer Sanyal immediately to start your e-Governance team.’
So, he is Mr Chandrasheshar, the new Joint Secretary in place of Mr Subir Hari Singh, I wondered. Mr Chandrashekhar looked at me and taking out the smallest possible ring-bound notebook from nowhere he simply asked me, ‘Sanyal, what is your intercom number?’ And immediately, at that very moment, I understood that he would be different.
Yes, he is different, much more different than this very phrase often explains about a popular brand of tomato ketch-up in TV commercials!
Some years later, in a friendly chat after 7 pm (that used to be our preferred time to talk about everything other than e-governance) I told him, ‘Do you know Sir, in my personal norm of rating an IAS officer you get only 3 out of 10?’ He instantly understood that tricky norm and smiled. Indeed, in the team of e-governance in DIT (it was not DeitY at that time), we all felt the same way that RC was different from others in the pride.
We used to refer him, in his back, as RC, not JS(RC) or AS(RC) or SS(RC), which otherwise the usual norm in any government office. Once I mentioned to him that we learnt a lot from his professing on e-governance and that’s why we refer to him with his initials as ‘RC’, the custom which is generally reserved for the professors. And it was ‘sustainable’ also as the reference of ‘RC’ was independent of currency of his designation! Somehow this ‘RC’ nomenclature became viral outside the DIT building also and we often used to get demiofficial sms or even we used to encounter personal or telephonic conversation referring Mr Chandrasekhar as ‘RC’, by the people who were outsiders but some way connected to the e-gov team of DIT. It is amazing that even after his moving on from the e-gov area almost 4 years now, among the e-gov practioners who are close to DIT, reference of ‘RC’ in any conversation does not need any elaboration but immediately understood !
How well he managed to deliver the assigned work of e-Governance for the central government need not be discussed in this space and beyond the scope this article also. But certain pioneering efforts and related facts are amazing. Before his joining the DIT there was very little we could achieve in the space of e-governance. There was a small cell in DIT, christened as ‘Office Automation Cell’, looking after IT aspects of the department itself and there were scattered activities which used to call for an annual budget of around Rs 5 crores, meant for some e-governance related projects. And after 7-8 years, when he actually moved on, leaving behind a well-nurtured e-governance group manned by core DIT officers and a large contingent of ICT and management professionals in a dedicated NeGD division, the annual budget for the group donning the e-gov cap was close to Rs 1000 crores which was almost 80% of the entire DIT budget !
But what were the reasons for this almost 200 times increase in the annual budget? Obviously there came plenty on the table, in a span of first 2-3 years. The pilot replication of successful 3 projects in 28 states, the framework and scheme for 35 State/UT Wide Area Network, 100,000 Common Services Centre at Panchayat villages, 35 Data Centres in each State/UT capital, National e-Governance Plan with its 27 Mission Mode projects and 8 components for the entire country, creation of the NeGP Program Management Unit ( now NeGD, in its new avatar ), e-Gov Capacity Building scheme for the state/UT government officials, State Service Delivery Gateway for each State Data Centre, nation-wide Standards for various elements of e-gov project implementation, e-District projects for all districts, nucleation of National Knowledge Network, all came one after another in a span of 6-7 years, with the superb stewardship of RC. We all worked in a well coordinated planned manner, deliberated, argued and converged to a common cause and delivered the desired output following the way RC guided us. Soon DIT in New Delhi became the pivotal nerve centre for all e-governance activities in the country and annual budget kitty for e-governance group kept ringing. People who mattered in the central governance structure soon took note of all these and it was therefore only a matter of time that RC was crowned by the PM’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration 2007-08 on the Civil Service day held in the year 2009.
I wondered many times what has been RC’s USP in getting so much adoration from all the people he closely worked with, especially in our e-gov team and got the quick answers every time. The first one must be his Godgifted power of listening aptitude. RC has the consummate ability to listen to others’ points of view. Those, who happen to meet senior cadre government officers very often for official business purpose, would immediately recognize this as a rare quality for a person of his stature with rich experience and in helm of affairs for a long period. Among many such occasions revealing this particular aspect of his character, which were personally witnessed by me in little more than 7 years my closely working with him, I am tempted to cite one incident for record. A meeting was going on in his chamber, may be sometime in 2006, when an IT secretary of a particular state, not in agreement with some DIT decision, was trying to convince RC with many flimsy reasons as to why RC should reverse his earlier decision in that matter. The one-sided conversation, after certain time, was almost taking on my nerves, being the only other person present in the scene, but RC became almost a symbol of tolerance for me at that time, not interjecting him even once, while the useless long argumentive monologue deserved that many times. After the arguments got exhausted for the state IT secretary RC simply uttered 2-3 sentences in support of his earlier decision which sealed the fate of the case! At that time I took pity on that cadre officer many years junior to him but after so many years I forgot almost all other aspects of that incident except that practical demon stration by RC how to remain cool in a situationwhen you have sufficient reason to lose it!
And what used to be the most preferred time to enjoy and fruitfully use his enormous listening power? We all knew that very well….do gate crash his chamber during his lunch time! Yes, when RC would take his daily home-sent lunch, in the most feasible slow motion with a regimented movement of the spoon and the rice grains and vegetables, one of us would seek that opportunity to discuss with him some critical issue which needed his guidance and decision. Participating in an official discussion and offering his decision on one side and flipping the pages of the India Today or Economist on the other side, RC would carry out such parallel processing with consummate ease. This used to be almost regular feature in his chamber and lo and behold, many important decisions on e-governance for the country had been taken during RC’s lunch time!
[The second USP for RC is perhaps his impeccable acumen how to build a team]
. At his level he was perfectly aware of the fact that his primary job was to get work done by others. And he used all traditional and innovative methods described in and out in the management coaching manuals written in this regard. In my opinion, motivation was the most important virtue he had planned to use for the team building. In a government ambience, to bring in motivation for the officers to work hard and that too most of the time much beyond scheduled working hours and sometimes on weekends and holidays, is no small achievement. And exactly it happened that way for most of us in the RC’s team for the 6-7 years he happened to be in the helm of e-gov affairs in DIT. In his management manual there were all necessary ingredients which cooked well to yield sustained motivation for well meaning officers in the group; bestowing confidence on the juniors, closely coupled with enhanced liberty to decide and act on issues which can be resolved below his level, absence of micro-management in routine and rudimentary matters, following a participatory approach for junior officers in technology and related matters, even not modifying the draft green sheet notes unnecessarily when it did not warrant so. Indeed we learnt a lot from his ways of managing a team of self-esteemed officers.
Many people did not know that RC, during the period 1957 to 1971, which was in a way the formative years of his educational life and perhaps the pattern of his distinctive character, lived in Kolkata, except 4-5 years in between at Vishakapatnam. He passed higher secondary examination as a student of famous 1877-established Missionary Calcutta Boys’ School and graduated in Chemistry (Hons.) from the prestigious Presidency College (now University). He further received a MSc. degree in chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and an MS in Computer Science from the Pennsylvania State University, USA. Once, in the early days of our association, he confided to me, ‘Ashis, at one point of time my Bengalispeaking skill was better than my Telugu speaking, but I lost most of that. Try to speak to me in Bengali often, so that I can get back some flair at least’. Since then I followed my mentor’s wish religiously. Even today, in private conversation, I speak to him more in Bengali than English. And on his part he used to apply his Bengali-speaking skill, in official meetings, just to restrain me from elaborating any subject more than necessary, by whispering in a very low voice, ’byas, thik aachhe, thik aachhe, aar bolben na’ ( Ok, ok, do not elaborate more ) !
Do all these above mean that nobody had difficult times with RC in the office? Of course that is not true. His impeccable memory many times caused problems to us, especially in regard to our commitments to him on the agreed timelines for finishing assigned tasks.
His PA had the problem because that poor fellow almost forgot his primary task of taking shorthand notes and typing. RC used to type almost all his official notes, even if it is a very lengthy one! Only slippage in that act used to be that he would take the print out only on one side of the green sheet ( presumably he never bothered to learn that trick of both side printing with proper margin)! His office assistant sometime would have harrowed moments to ensure that he reached airport on time as most of the time RC would start from office to catch a flight with minimum possible margin of error. My personal experience with him as a co-traveler in long flights had been expressly interesting as after few such occasions, he remained the same passive listener to my babbling in the adjacent seat in the flight and I became interested in crossword puzzle and sodoku!
The second USP for RC is perhaps his impeccable acumen how to build a team
RC started his civil service career with distinction and all of his nearly 37 years of active service in various capacities in his AP State cadre and in central government departments had been notable. It is worth mentioning that RC established the country’s first Department of Information Technology (DIT) in Andhra Pradesh and served it from June 1997 to December 1999. In his own words, ‘I was always fortunate that my seniors, whether a senior officer or a Minister, had exhibited great degree of confidence in me but that filled in me greater sense of responsibility to perform and deliver with best of my abilities’. This is really a statement of substance from a humble champion that should be emulated. He moved from Secretary DIT position to Secretary DoT in the month of September 2010 and in the normal course superannuated on March 28th 2013. But as we see he is far from retirement in letter and spirit. It is definite that in the forthcoming day government of India will find out the best possible way to effectively utilize RC’s enormous knowledge and experience in governance and especially in electronic governance. In his own words, ‘there are possibilities… but now I have decided to take at least 2 months off…will think thereafter’. However, when some of us, former members in his e-governance team, look back to the time of our association with RC we appreciate that for all of us it was the most memorable period of self-satisfaction, a rare commodity in government eco-system, for which every credit would go this quiet-talking officer and the gentleman.
Mr Rajeev Ratna Shah Sir, you must have brought in many exemplary things to our governance system by your visionary acumen. But in my opinion your best contribution to the administrative system was, through your sustained effort, having its ups and downs, to hand-pick RC as the Joint Secretary in DIT in 2002, to lay the foundation stone of the comprehensive e-Governance initiatives for the country, which has started showing the most lasting impact on Indian administrative and governance system for the next few decades, for sure