gfiles magazine

April 19, 2011

A social odyssey

The story of a dirt-poor boy who became an IAS officer dedicated to rural development
Title : My Life Sturggle and Service
Author : Cholleti Prabhakar, IAS
Publisher : Navasakthi Township Developers
Price : Rs. 100

CHOLLETI Prabhakar, son of a poor parent, in whose house the day when all the eight members of the family “ate stomach full” was a special day, overcame all obstacles to become an IAS officer. Clearly, the feat would have been unachievable had there been no Scheduled Caste Government Welfare Hostel. The rest of us should also be thankful for that hostel, for it provided us an upright IAS officer committed to rural development.
Prabhakar describes several hindrances a rural “backward caste” child faces, such as studying in Telugu medium up to graduation. This brings to the fore a striking conundrum: Those who come from vernacular-medium schools know at least a part of the ground reality but are increasingly being outnumbered by convent-bred administrative officers who have little touch with the grass roots.

The fire in him was stoked by the continual harassment and transfers.... It leads him to conclude: ‘There is a need for committed officers to face and challenge the rotten system.’

He comes down heavily on corruption and corrupt elements in the civil administration. The fire in him was stoked by the continual harassment and transfers he faced at the hands of higher-ups and politicians. It leads him to conclude: “As per my view there is a need for committed officers in administration in government service to face and challenge the rotten system.” This, he says, is the biggest challenge faced by modern democratic governance in India. Things were not in such a mess till 1975; after that, the “executive had sensed the power politics game and drawn the favouritism as dominant character cutting the rules and regulations enforced”. It saw the end of honest officers who acted according to the rulebook.
The first three decades of free India saw proper functioning of bureaucrats. The next three witnessed falling standards, nepotism, corruption and bending of law. Prabhakar is frank: “The transfers and postings have become a tool in the (hands of) political leadership and captured the real situations for their selfish games. The postings and opting the officers had eroded the realm and ethics in administration. There are instances from either side the earnings mismatch the assets. Few officers and political leaders had cases against them under these disproportionate assets to their incomes.” He adds: “The corruption and nepotism and red-tapism have taken strong roots along with middleman exploitation and rowdyism. Truth has no value and the lies ruin day to day administration.”
He rightly points out: “The plan documents are prepared with high hopes but the implementation is very weak and results are not countable. Popular schemes announcements on the floors of Houses are very common. But no concrete results, no much change in the eradication of poverty, hunger, illiteracy and providing basic minimum needs in rural areas for the livelihoods of the rural citizens for disadvantaged people is a myth.”
Prabhakar was transferred several times as he tried to act according to the rulebook and refused to obey the whimsical orders of politicians. At times, the risk involved was a bit more than just getting a transfer order: “The minister taken a decision to transfer me and on 19th March, 1993 he personally brought the order issued at Hyderabad and brought orders copy. I got relieved from Adilabad district but the followers of the minister has attempted to teach a lesson to me by using malpractices and muscle power. By God grace destiny and presence of mind I avoided the situation proceeded to Hyderabad ….” Sadly, Prabhakar had to pay a high price for all this as the education of his two sons was hampered. But he now laments it, for nothing can be more saddening for a father than the failure to raise his sons properly.
He displays a healthy insight into the functioning of the rural economy and knows where matters went haywire. A chapter named “Exchange of Paddy Husk To Watery Butter Milk” explains how, earlier, in landlord-dominated villages people were exploited but yet survived. The poor got watery butter milk in exchange for paddy husk (after winnowing the husk from the paddy they received as wages for service rendered to the Dorawaru, the chief of the village) and it made for a delicious meal with jowar, bajra, ragi or korralu. Even that agrarian lifestyle has failed to withstand the onslaught of modernism. Prabhakar lists the reasons for this decline: “Migration of agricultural labour, non-implementation of Minimum Wages act, import of agricultural produces in the absence of a regulating mechanism to protect native farmers, no irrigation facilities created, and poor understanding of choice of cash crops by the farmers.”
I thought the self-sufficient village economy was destroyed under British rule. At least, so was I taught three decades ago during my higher secondary education in St Xavier’s College, Kolkata. But here is a man from Munugode village of Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh who says that even in the 1970s such a system worked there. I cannot comment on his analysis for I do not have adequate knowledge about village economies. But this book must be read by those interested enough to discover a new swathe of life.
Prabhakar, who has earlier written five books in Telugu, would have done well to write this one too in his mother tongue and get it translated. The biggest hindrance in reading about his experiences, which are both illuminating and educative, is the convoluted language. However, another prominent retired IAS officer, SR Sankaran, had described Prabhakar as “pro-poor and change agent for the downtrodden communities” and this additional dimension of his makes the book extremely interesting.

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