Former Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra, one of India’s most respected civil servants, died in Goa on Sunday night after a multi-organ failure. He was 82. A 1956-batch IAS officer, Chandra served as the topmost bureaucrat of the country during the politically tumultuous years of 1990-92, a period which saw the change of two governments, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, massive student protests against reservation policy, and the start of the economic reforms.
Even after his retirement, he was sought after by almost every government for advice and different kinds of assignments. He was India’s ambassador to the United States from 1996 to 2001, a period during which India attracted American sanctions in the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests. His stint in Washington was considered very successful. “I remember an insightful discussion with Naresh ji who as USA ambassador invited me for dinner. He believed in strong India-USA friendship,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.
The Atal Behari Vajpayee government asked him to suggest measures to reform the civil aviation sector, while the Manmohan Singh government formed a task force under him to recommend steps to strengthen India’s security apparatus. Chandra’s committee on civil aviation had recommended the privatisation of Air India.
T S R Subramanian, another former Cabinet Secretary who worked closely with Chandra, however, said it was his predecessor’s recommendations regarding regulation of private companies, as head of another committee, that probably would count as one with the most lasting impact. “….it has completely changed the way private sector is governed,” Subramanian said. “He was amongst the finest that Indian civil service has produced.”