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An officer and a Gentleman

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Dr Vishwas Mehta, the Chief Secretary of Kerala, a 1986-batch IAS officer from Rajasthan had come to the palm fringed land from 3,000 kms away shares his experiences with Sudheer Goutham.

Dr Vishwas Mehta

Tell us about your childhood

I come from a small tribal village Dungarpur and a part of seventh generation Brahmin family. Most family members were involved in temple puja and temple activities. My father got a job in Panjab University and we moved to Chandigarh from where I completed my education.

How did you get into Indian Administrative service?

I had a job with the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) but my father encouraged me to write the civil services. I wrote the exam to please my father and initially got into IPS but soon I realized I wanted to become an IAS officer and studied for 15-20 hours a day for months and stood 9th in the country.

What is the difference between IPS and IAS?

An IPS officer deals with law and order and crime. His power is visible and is a brute authority in comparison to an IAS officer. There is perceivable power. Both serve people but the way one can touch the lives of people is different. I have had the opportunity to reach out to thousands of people and make a difference in their lives in my own way. That satisfaction is unparallel. An IAS officer, as opposed to an IPS does not get gallantry awards and rarely do you see an IAS get a Padma Bhushan but the satisfaction of creating something new, touching the lives of the poorest of the poor and making a difference gives a lot of satisfaction. In terms of experience, an IAS officer gains a lot as he during his years does so many projects and gets involved in so many areas such as revenue, health, agriculture, industry to name a few.

Share with us an unforgettable incident in your career.

When I was transferred from Wayanad, where I worked as a sub collector and also as collector I was adamant that there should be any speeches, garlands and gifts. Before leaving, I had gone to Sultan Battery and there was a local priest who requested me to0 have a cup of tea. Little did I know what was in store? There were close to a thousand people who had assembled and right in the front was a 75-year-old woman who had a few years ago come to my office to meet me. She palmed me a few éclair chocolates. That simple gesture was real love and affection that the people of Wayanad had for me. That incident is etched in my memory.

You spent a lot of time in Wayanad.

I did. It is a tribal district and people from hamlets come with the same issues mostly it is lack of roads, water, electricity, medicines and other basic amenities. I made sure that would visit these villages and ensure that at least two to three critical issues are sorted. This struck a chord with people. I would like to mention about the 75-year-old woman that I mentioned earlier. She, with a group of women had once come to the collectorate not with grievances but to understand how the office functions. There are few people who do this and I took them around and explained. I must say that I knew the names of 1 lakh people in the district and that endeared me to them.

How did you adapt to Kerala?

A number of my seniors would often be heard complaining that they do not get chapati; they do not get to celebrate Diwali as they do in North India and so on. I was clear right from the beginning. I learnt Malayalam and also took classes. If one is to stay for three decades, one may well adapt and integrate into the social milieu. Rajasthan is my Janma bhoomi but Kerala is my Karma bhoomi.

We understand that you have a lot of interest in music. Tell us.

Since childhood I was hooked to songs by Mukesh. There is something that stirs an emotion in me. Even as a child I would enjoy the songs, although many of them had sadness in them. I was crestfallen when Mukesh passed away in 1976 and wished I get his voice. I would perform on stage but later on decided against as there was criticism that it was affecting and was at the cost of my work which is untrue. Music has a power and however tired I am when I start singing, it takes me to another world. I also love being amidst nature. One should spend time alone in natural surroundings. Music and nature too have a connection. There are so many ragas that are sung at a particular time. Man has to strike a balance between work and leisure.

What is your advice to young civil service aspirants?

The Indian Administrative Service gives one the opportunity to give back. The joy of giving cannot be quantified and explained. My 35 years of service has given me a lot of satisfaction. There was a time when I handed over land and houses to thousands of people but the irony was I did not own any land or a house. This was when I was a young collector. I came from 3,000 kms away for a salary of Rs 2,300 in 1987. I am extremely happy that I could play my part in the development of the state which is at least 15-20 years ahead of several states in the country.

What are your views on probity in public life?

It takes a lot of grit, proper upbringing and self determination to be upright in life. People run after money and power. If you want money, do business and for power fight elections. Being grounded is very important. My mother became a widow at 28 and my father had to endure a lot of hardship. Upbringing plays an important role. One should always be grounded and truth always triumphs.

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