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TSR Subramanian hammered out practical recommendations: Shailaja Chandra

TSR Subramanian will be remembered for spearheading a PIL known as TSR Subramanian and Ors vs Union of India when the Supreme Court concluded that ‘fixed tenure of bureaucrats will promote professionalism, efficiency and good governance’

opinion Updated: Feb 27, 2018 11:16 IST
Shailaja Chandra,TSR Subramanian,PIL
TSR will also be remembered for lifting the veil on the inner working of politicians and civil servants.(HT File Photo)

Why will TSR Subramanian, TSR as he was always known, be remembered? Certainly he was a respected cabinet secretary and one who managed the functioning of government during the turbulent coalition years of the late nineties but maintained equanimity while remaining honest and outspoken.

He will also be remembered for lifting the veil on the inner working of politicians and civil servants through a series of readable books and scathing opinion pieces.

More recently he will be remembered for spearheading a PIL known as TSR Subramanian and Ors vs Union of India when the Supreme Court concluded that “fixed tenure of bureaucrats will promote professionalism, efficiency and good governance” and attributed “much of the deterioration in the functioning of bureaucracy to political interference.” On national TV, he did not hedge around when he found a chief minister or a government treating a bureaucrat unfairly and came down heavily regardless of who might get annoyed. Indeed all these qualities endeared him to the civil services which is why officers feel the loss.

But there was something more and that bears a telling as we bid him good bye.

On a personal note, I came to know the man for some six months in 2015-16 when he chaired the committee for the evolution of the new education policy — a report that never saw the light of day, — and which TSR, I believe, saw as his greatest failure. Because I witnessed what he brought to the table in conducting this mammoth exercise it bears a telling.

The first was the incredible way in which he managed to pull together four retired have-beens with nothing in common — be it education, service experience or vision.

Listening to over 200 presentations from state governments, educationists, NGOs, academics and individuals and cutting short nonsense but equally responding with passion to revelations which went to the root of the problem was quintessential TSR.

Funnelling each sub-sector’s deficiency into a sharp, situation analysis and making practical recommendations is what he hammered out with speed, dexterity, accuracy and zeal to do what was right — not what people wanted to hear.

During this period, he suffered from a serious health problem which would have grounded anyone with less tenacity and determination.

A stroke and it’s aftermath notwithstanding, he was back in the office in just a few weeks — ebullient as ever — raring to make up for lost time.

His commitment to combining pre-school education with primary education in the interest of giving opportunities otherwise denied to poor children was boundless.

His belief that many institutions of so called importance had outlived their utility and were clearly white elephants won him many enemies who must be now having the last laugh.But to them and to all who read this today I will say, “ It is better to have tried and lost than never to have tried at all.”

(The writer is former secretary to the Government of India, and former chief secretary, Delhi.)

First Published: Feb 26, 2018 23:24 IST