Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXIV No. 2, May 1-15, 2024

Tributes: B.S. Raghavan – Pre-eminent Civil Servant

-- by K.R.A. Narasiah

During the colonial regime, the civil servants were always embroiled in a tussle with freedom fighters who viewed them as an important apparatus in the British machinations. This prompted Jawaharlal Nehru to famously remark that ICS was “neither Indian, nor civil, nor service”. However, feeling the need to maintain a good civil service, the basic structure of the Civil Service was retained after India became independent, with modified performance needs for efficient administration.

To this steel frame, belonged B.S. Raghavan, a former civil servant and an Adyarite in post-retirement life, who with distinction served not only the state of West Bengal, but also the centre. He passed away on 11-04-2024.

Born in Sirkazhi on 29th ­August 1927, to Smt. Alamelu and Sri B. Parthasarathy Iyengar, a renowned lawyer of the Madras High Court, Raghavan had his early education at Poonamallee and later in the Ramakrishna Mission High School. He joined the Loyola College to pursue his higher education. While in college Raghavan began to get involved in some public activities that contributed to his personality development.

Raghavan grew up in T. Nagar of the then Madras, where he lived with his uncles. All that mattered in the country was then reflected in T Nagar, be it political, cultural or intellectual activity. While Mylapore was considered the intellectual hub of the city, T. Nagar in the mid 1940s saw an accelerated growth in service activities, thanks to spontaneous development of an elite suburb.

In August 1947, Raghavan joined the King Institute of Preventive Medicine, Guindy, Madras, as a Junior Public Health Assistant in the Department of Water Analysis, where C.G. Pandit was the Director of the Institute. With a fine touch of humour Raghavan recalls, “a good-natured and kind-hearted gentleman (C.G. Pandit) came to the laboratory from time to time to hand over samples of his daughter’s urine to be analysed for any indication of pregnancy”. Another interesting feature is the library of the Institute and whenever possible he spent his time there. During one such visit he stumbled upon a research paper which sought to show how penguins reacted badly to some musical instruments. He wrote a piece on this phenomenon, titled Penguins Don’t Like Banjo and sent to The Hindu, and was surprised to find the same published. That launched him into journalism as well.

The joy did not last long and he found himself unemployed having to leave the job in March 1949, more due to his own action of resigning out of sheer disgust at being ill-treated by his superior. Those days jobs were not easy to find and his efforts did not fructify including an attempt to join the State Service. He was serious about entering the Civil Service, despite his weakness in the subject of history. He however worked hard and sat for the examination. His joy knew no bounds when he received a call letter for interview at Parliament House in New Delhi on January 16, 1952.

He was not happy the way the interview proceeded. Disheartened, he left Delhi and after a tour through Agra and Calcutta reached Madras. As the train reached Madras, he saw his entire family, including his mother and grandfather at the platform, greeting him for his success in the Civil Services entrance. His name had that very morning ­appeared in all the newspapers and been announced over the All-India Radio. He was one of 36 successful candidates for appointment to the Indian Administrative Service. He joined the West Bengal Cadre of IAS in 1952.

When his services were at the disposal of the centre, he handled several key positions. They included Director, Political & Security Policy Planning, Ministry of Home Affairs, ­Additional Secretary, Food, and Secretary, National Integration Council, during the chairmanship of Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. Other important positions held by him were, Secretary, Vikram Sarabhai Committee on Synchronous Communications Satellite, Secretary, K. Santhanam Committee on Prevention of Corruption, Member, Expert Group on Energy, Member, Joint Intelligence Committee, Member- Secretary, L.P. Singh Committee to reorganise the IB and the CBI and Additional Member (Vigilance), Railway Board.

His tenure with public-sector enterprises, included four majors, Damodar Valley Corporation, Food Corporation of India, Power Development Corporation and the Durgapur Projects, where he served as their chief executive.

As secretary of the National Integration Council (NIC) right from its inception in 1961, Raghavan worked closely with three prime ministers who were the chairpersons. He records that Jawaharlal Nehru made use of the Council to the maximum extent as it was mainly Nehru’s brain-child since, emotional and cultural integration of the country was his passion.

He was sent on deputation to international bodies that included working as Chairman of four UN Committees, Policy Adviser to UN (FAO), US Congressional Fellow and Adviser to the International Commission on Peace and Food. He had served as Leader/Member of India’s delegation to almost all international organizations including the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meetings. Incidentally, his monograph The Necessary War: The War on Hunger and his report done for the US Department of the Interior on the conditions in the American Indian Reservations were included as parts of the US Congressional Record.

When Smt. Indira Gandhi had come to North Bengal to campaign for the state assembly elections in 1972, where Raghavan was the Divisional Commissioner, he received her at the Cooch Behar air-strip. When she left for Siliguri by helicopter and as Siliguri was within his control and being responsible for the PM’s security, he followed her in another helicopter. When the party arrived at Siliguri Indira Gandhi saw Raghavan and taking him aside, told him that it was not wise for him to keep trailing her during the election campaign as it will invite criticism from the opposition. He left but remembers her pleasant smile while he was leaving.

In 1988 he was invited by the Director of Bharathidasan Institute of Management (BIM) to take special courses for the students and C. Subramaniam, Chairman of the Governing Body of BIM, made Raghavan the chairman of the BIM’s interview board. Thus he got involved in education that drew him into other institutions as well, like Ashram Group of educational institutions, the Hindu Educational Organisation (as a member and later President of the Governing Body) and the MOP Vaishnav College for Women (as a member of the Board of Governors).

Once in Chennai, he embarked on his original passion of writing and as said earlier wrote an article to The Hindu that appeared on the editorial page with prominent build-up. That brought Raghavan closer to G. Kasturi then editor of The Hindu, who invited Raghavan in 1989, to join the newspaper’s editorial as adviser and later, as a contributor to The Hindu Business Line from January, 1994. He wrote in both papers on varied subjects, never missing to criticize even the powers that be, when necessity arose. He humorously records his experiences with the top echelons of the paper, saying they are the “. . . outcome of my having been a disillusioned witness of the goings-on in a field which never ceased to preach eternal verities to the whole wide world with an inexhaustible supply of stentorian, sanctimonious, pontificatory advice.” He quotes Stephen Leacock, the humourist, who defined a newspaper editor as one who took great pains to separate the chaff from wheat and went to extraordinary lengths to see to it that only the chaff was printed!

In addition to writing, he has been quite busy as he was associated, directly or indirectly, with a number of organisations, that include the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (as the founder-Treasurer), the Rajaji Centre for Public Affairs, the Madras Kendra of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (as a member of the Managing Committee), the Ranganathan Centre for Information Studies (as a member of the Governing Board), the Public Expenditure Round Table (as a Trustee), and the Member, Board of Directors of the Indian Institute of Information Technology (Design and Manufacture), Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu.

A collection of his articles (in the Business Line) has been published by DGM Icfai Books (2005), titled Quintessence: A Look at the General Social Milieu. The blurb rightly says the work “. . . is a refreshing look at issues in governance in corporate and government sectors, management, IT, and the society in general. . . the articles reflect the quintessence of the principles and practices that are relevant to service-oriented public life, effective management and good governance.”

A story that he proudly repeats is worth repeating in conclusion. During his tenure as the Divisional Commissioner of North Bengal in 1971, Indira Gandhi visited the camps set up for the refugees and once on such a visit, Raghavan accompanied her in heavy rains holding the umbrella in one hand and firmly gripping her arm with the other, as the ground was slippery. When she wanted his hand off, she conveyed it delightfully: “Mr. Raghavan, the only effect of your taking hold of me is going to be that when you slip and fall, you are going to pull me down also.”

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  1. P R IYER says:

    Nice to know about Mr BS Raghavan .He must have been a sincere civil servant .
    The author has brought out the the man and his character very nicely

  2. R. Ramachandran says:

    Nice Article. He is a passionate writer, orator par excellence both in Tamil and English. He was actively involved In YMIA(founded by Annie Besant) as president.
    Had a good fortune of knowing him for nearly 15 +years. I happen to be the Hon secretary of YMIA.

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