Words of wisdom with Haryana ex-chief secy Dharam Vir: If you accept a challenge, give it all you have and stand by the decision’
“When you join the Indian Administrative Service, you shift from the back seat to the driver’s seat. You need to be decisive,” says former Haryana chief secretary Dharam Vir, a 1973-batch officer who turns 70 next month, and still enjoys driving.
He learnt the importance of standing his ground from his father, a humble defence accounts clerk, who was posted in Allahabad when Dharam Vir was in his formative years. “My father told my five siblings and me that education is the route to prosperity. My mother ensured all of us studied well. I was an average student till two teachers at Government Intermediate College, Allahabad, transformed my life,” he says.
“Lal saab taught industrial chemistry and was also the sports in-charge. He generated interest in applied science besides encouraging us to play football and cricket. I learnt to make firecrackers for Diwali, organic colours for Holi, soap, jelly and jam in his class. With discipline and encouragement, math teacher BN Singh instilled a junoon (passion) for the subject, which eventually enabled me to get the Uttar Pradesh merit scholarship. I bought my first pair of shoes on getting the monthly scholarship of Rs 15,” says Dharam Vir, who cleared the National Defence Academy in 1964 but decided to pursue his dream of joining the Indian Institute of Technology.
He chose to study BSc, physics honours, at IIT, Kharagpur, because he was passionate about the subject. “My father was upset as I opted for physics instead of aeronautical engineering. I did MSc in physics from IIT, Kanpur. Egged on by one of my classmates, D Subbarao, who topped the civil services in 1972 and eventually became the Reserve Bank of India governor, I took a shot at the exam and was selected after barely five months of preparation,” he says.
Sharing his study strategy, Dharam Vir says, “I intuitively did the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threat) analysis. My strengths, math and physics, were obvious choices and I relied on the coaching institute in Delhi for English essay-writing and general knowledge. I would draft and re-draft the essays and focused on three topics, including can India do without aid?” He considers his quality of getting into details a strength as it helped him study the trend and understand the requirement.
GOOD, BAD AND UGLY
On challenges as a bureaucrat, he says, “Politicians need the good, the bad and the ugly. Good officials are honest and perform; the bad are those who go with the flow, they accept gifts but don’t demand them; and the ugly are the corrupt. The politicians need the good because they face elections every five years so they must have something to show.”
“A frank opinion or advice may or may not go down well but it is heard and valued,” says the officer who served as the state home and revenue secretary before becoming the chief secretary. After retirement, he was appointed the state election commission chief till 2015.
“People are important. The efficiency of the team is defined by its weakest link. Meet all who come to you even it is killing your time. You will get feedback about your department’s working. Attend to every phone call and call back those missed. Public contact is a must for public servants. It builds trust.”
Post retirement, his mission is to take science to the people, particularly youngsters in villages. His wife, Keya, an IIT alumna who retired from Panjab University’s physics department, and he run an NGO, Society for Promotion of Science and Technology in India. Dharam Vir co-authored a book on 60 years of his alma mater, IIT-Kharagpur, in 2011 and is writing another one on the IITs.
On the changes he wants to see in Panchkula, he says, “We need to maintain our public spaces and respect the law, particularly on roads. I disapprove of the VIP culture where senior police officials travel with security. If even a cop isn’t safe travelling like a common man, it sends the wrong signal.”
1) Be decisive and be ready to face the consequences
2) Take pride in your work
3) Be frank and learn to say no
4) Aspire but don’t use dubious means
5) Value people. Return a call if you miss one