The commissioner of College Education & Special Secretary, Higher Education, Government of Rajasthan is Goa’s son of the soil Ashutosh Apa Teli Pednekar. The only Goan to make it to the much sought after IAS since 2001 and through his sixteen years of service in Rajasthan, not only has he held numerous posts, but has also been an agent of change and innovation in India’s largest state. He spoke to NT NETWORK about life as an IAS officer and how the youth should be interested in a career in services
Danuska Da Gama I NT NETWORK
It was Ashutosh A T Pednekar’s father, retired Superintendant of Police Apa Teli who inspired him early on to take up Indian Administrative Service. Having interacted with several IPS officers and learning about the UPSC exam, the spark was lit and he followed his dreams. Having passed the exam in 2001, he has held several positions over the years, including being a collector for eight years in Rajasthan.
Excerpts from an interview
Q: Ever since you joined the IAS in 2002, we haven’t had any Goan make it to the IAS cadre. Why do you think Goans do not aspire for civil services? Also, is there any historical perspective to this?
The simple reason is an information gap. Civil services at an all India level do not register on students’ radar as a career option. Also, there is lack of guidance because most teachers and parents are unaware of the details of the exam conducted by the UPSC and hence can’t effectively guide students in the formative years. The internet however has been a great leveller, and all the information and best guidance is now available online. In that sense the restrictions of location no longer matter. Lately, I have observed a growing interest among students towards the civil services and I hope it’s only a matter of time before we see Goans in good numbers in the civil services.
If you consider historical factors, Goa has produced a galaxy of achievers at the national and international stage in highly competitive fields and although it is generally known that Goans have an easy facility with international employment, you would be surprised to know that there are many Goan families in Rajasthan in places like Jaipur, Udaipur, Ajmer, Kota, Jodhpur and many others who settled there 100 -150 years ago and occupied senior administrative positions in the erstwhile princely states and also in the British Indian Railways. You would also find many Goan families in the rest of the country. So, historical or any other factors are not in any way a hindrance; if anything, it’s quite the opposite.
Q: Many believe that Goans are content with what they have and that’s why they don’t aim higher. Do you believe we need to get out of this ‘susegad’ way of life and think bigger?
There is no truth in that. In fact Goans have excelled in various fields. Even historically Goans have done well in the services. What we need is to make our students aware so that we contribute more in numbers to the services put together, not just the IAS. It’s also a great employment and strategic opportunity for the State because everything required in terms of education, infrastructure and economic status is all conducive to see that we have more students and people in the services.
There needs to be a lot of awareness about a career in services. It ultimately all boils down to an ecosystem. A critical mass of students, coaching places, mentors and a possibility of government support like is there is in some states. Parents and students need to be aware of this option and work towards it.
Q: It is said that the IAS training is very rigorous. How was it for you?
The two-year programme at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, which is ranked as one of the best institutions in the world for such training, is rigorous but extremely enriching. There is a lot of emphasis on frank debate, discussion and original thinking. Leading thinkers and practitioners are invited as guest faculty. One of the highlights was a two-month-long Bharat Darshan wherein we visited the entire country. It really was a revelation, a true discovery of India. During training, I obtained the Dr Subhash Dua Gold medal for the best IAS probationer of my batch.
Q: Of the many postings you’ve had which was the most challenging?
Every posting has its own challenges. One of the unique things about IAS is that you get diverse postings so challenges are different every time.
Q: Isn’t is frustrating to be transferred time and again as it would interfere with completing a task or taking forward a vision initiated by you?
Not really. We have a basic grounding of the socio-economic political reality of a particular place. We have a very good understanding of how organisations and the government setup functions. In the initial part you are looking after policy implementation. Later, as you rise in seniority you look at policy formulation. Once you have this understanding, you are expected to bring to bear all the learning and experiences of that past to that particular position. It gives us a lot of cross functional exposure and that brings in a lot of innovation.
Q: Bureaucracy today is in the hands of politicians who do as they please. What is the value of IAS officers who are known to curry favour with politicians?
There are a lot of misconceptions but I am also not saying that you’re incorrect. However, bureaucracy and the political executive work in very close conjunction with each other and thus sometimes decisions are taken jointly. This is how policy formulation and implementation comes about. And since we work very closely those conditions arise.
What about illegalities and the involvement of politicians? How difficult is it in such situations, as we’ve had so many instances of an IAS officer blowing the whistle and then being transferred?
If there is clarity about the illegality there are no two ways about it. As IAS officers we are empowered legally as well as in every other way to take action against it.
Q: Does the Civil Service still retain the charm it once had especially since the economy has given rise to lucrative private sector jobs?
Of course the expansion of the economy and high economic growth rates have seen an astounding diversity of jobs in the private sector and also in entrepreneurship which is a hallmark of a healthy economy.
The private sector and civil services comparison is not an easy one and in some ways is an apples-oranges comparison. Let me put it this way, we all have opinions and suggestions about what is to be done to meet the challenges and opportunities our nation faces. The civil service gives one an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference in diverse sectors throughout one’s career.
On a practical level I can say that the new personnel policies of the Government lay a lot of emphasis on career planning, training and progression. Like in any field, of course there will be challenges, and though I am biased in saying this, nothing affords a better opportunity to observe social and economic challenges and be in a position to act on them to the best of one’s ability. And for me that has been immensely fulfilling. However, the ultimate analysis though is a matter of personal inclination.
Q: With the governments (State and Central) downsizing in recent times and allowing the private sectors benefits with more advantage, will Civil Service be able to garner that flamboyancy and respect as before?
Of the total government employment, senior civil service forms only a miniscule proportion. In fact there are only about 3500 direct IAS officers in the entire country. As the economy has liberalised, the government has pulled out of the production function, except for strategic PSU’s in the fields of defence, research, energy, transport and a few others. However its functions as a welfare state have seen an exponential growth, so the overall scope of the government functions has increased. Keen observers of public administration and polity will tell you that this is a worldwide phenomenon and hence the role of a civil service to bring about social equity, facilitate economic growth through infrastructure, efficient public delivery as well as the core functions related to finance, law and order, defence, etc, would continue to hold increasing significance.
Q: Being at the helm of affairs and having seen how a government functions, what role do you think a government can play in a free enterprise system?
Here there needs to be a thorough understanding of the needs of the economy, preparation and implementation of conducive policies, and constant improvement and innovation that is in tune with a rapidly evolving and maturing economy and polity – one that is in keeping with the aspirations of the people. Even as the government promotes free enterprise, one of the key functions is also to ensure that the interests of citizens are preserved and upheld.
Q: Now being in a position where one is part of policy formulation, one can observe competing interest groups and the challenge is to formulate a policy that is finally in the interest of the people
We’ve had instances of bureaucrats quitting to join politics. What is your stance on this?
Whatever the instances, they get highlighted disproportionately, but maybe their long experience of having been in public service gives them insights which might be helpful. Many others contribute through academia, civil society organisations, even through media and also industry. My take is that one should make the fullest use of one’s capacities to serve society in any which way one can.
Q: Do you believe that bureaucrats are the best political candidates to run a country or state?
The best candidate is one who truly represents the wishes and aspirations of the people and upholds public interest at all times. Knowledge of the polity and administration might be some advantage but so many other factors are more critical. That apart, for administration to succeed, the political executive and the bureaucracy have to work in close coordination. The goals are not different.
Q: How do you manage to keep the Goenkar in you alive while being busy in Rajasthan?
You would be surprised to know that there’s excellent sea fish in Jaipur and hence my xitt kodi is taken care of. So when friends from Goa come over I like surprising them by feeding them fish. I avidly follow all the news from Goa online and subscribe to some Goan magazines. There is a Goan association in Jaipur which meets on many occasions and our lingua franca is Konkani. My parents also come over and although it’s difficult I try to make it home as much as possible. The more one stays away from Goa, the fondness for it grows even more.
Q: What about work-life balance?
My wife Aditi is also a government officer and my daughter is in the fourth standard studying in Jaipur. Having served as district collector and municipal corporation commissioner for the last ten years, it does take a toll on family time. I have been constantly trying to make more time for family and it’s a continuous work in progress! The three of us share an interest in history and take trips to a lot of historical places of which there are so many in Rajasthan and the surrounding areas.
Q: Do you get time to pursue the activities you like doing?
I read quite a lot and off late I have started writing on administrative and policy issues. During my academy days I developed an interest in horse riding and it has now become a passion. Rajasthan has a great equine tradition and I am always trying to get better at it and so far some equestrian awards have also come my way. I love animals and the bond between the horse and the rider over a long distance is a moving experience. I am also an avid motorcyclist and have done quite a few long range solo trips.
Q: How have you made Rajasthan your own home?
Rajasthan has been my ‘karma bhoomi’ for the last 15 years. It’s culturally very rich and diverse and the people are warm and accepting. I have had the opportunity to serve in all parts of Rajasthan as District Collector of Udaipur, Alwar, Sri Ganganagar, Bundi and Dholpur and also as Municipal Commissioner of Jaipur and Kota along with tenures in the Tourism and Education departments. I think language is key and I love the sweet sounding Rajasthani language and its many dialects and I fancy myself to be good at Rajasthani. The greatest sense of fulfilment however comes when one’s work and efforts are recognised by the people and in that respect I have been very lucky.