IAS legend who put values before protocol

P S Appu,LBS Academy head who quit IAS as a matter of principle,dies at 83

Written by Johnson T A | Bangalore | Published: March 30, 2012 12:20 am

In the world of bureaucracy,folk heroes are a rarity. On Wednesday,one of those few heroes,P S Appu,passed away at age 83. The 1951-batch IAS officer was a former chief secretary of Bihar and a former director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration,Mussoorie.

“A development economist”,“a man who spoke his mind to his political masters”,“someone who did not stand on ceremony” — various descriptions came spontaneously from bureaucrats past and present when informed of Appu’s quiet demise.

The definitive event of his 30-year tenure in the IAS came in 1981,when he was into his second year as director of the LBS Academy. He resigned voluntarily from the IAS as a matter of principle after the then Congress government failed to back him in dismissing an influential probationer who had misbehaved with another at an academy outing. “I don’t think anybody will stand on a principle like that these days,” says Ratna Prabha K,a 1981 batch IAS officer of the Karnataka cadre and the principal secretary for Information Technology and Communication in Andhra Pradesh.

“Unlike many of his predecessors,Appu gave more importance to character and values and less to protocol and etiquette,” says Subhash Chandra Khuntia,also 1981 batch and Karnataka cadre,and who is currently a joint secretary in the MHRD in Delhi.

“It was known that when he was offered the post of chief secretary of Bihar,he put the condition to the chief minister that he would give opinions free and frank,and the chief minister agreed,” says Khuntia.

According to an article written by Anita Agnihotri — 1980 batch,Orissa cadre,currently with the MWCD in Delhi — and posted on the IAS preparatory website Boloji,Appu while quitting as chief secretary “outlined the government’s failure to stem the rot in the political system,the growing criminalisation and declining morale of the bureaucracy and the ensuing uncontrollable chaos as reasons for opting out”.

In an LBS Academy newsletter soon after Appu’s departure,joint director S C Vaish wrote about the impact he had made. “He tried to foster the values of professional competence,political neutrality,total integrity and service to the poor. He never minced words in support of these values. He left a little sad when he found these values were not supported. His parting remark to the faculty was ‘I leave to you the bricks and mortars of this academy’.”

G V K Rau,currently a secretary to the Karnataka Governor,was a 1982 probationer at LBS,stepping in a few months after Appu voluntarily quit the IAS. “He was an example that most young officers set out to follow. These days there is nobody to look up to for young officers. In that way his death is a big loss,” says Rau.

Appu’s passion for national and social issues is reflected in his writings,including personal blog entries,letters to national leaders and contributions to IAS magazines. In the aftermath of the Gujarat violence in 2002,he wrote a letter to the President for reining in the lawlessness.

Last year in the Bihar IAS officers’ magazine,he put out his thoughts on the weakness in the implementation of NREGS,and suggested measures like inducting persons of high calibre including IAS probationers,IIT,REC and national law school graduates as block development officers. “The main reasons for shoddy execution are the decline and degeneration of the administration at all levels,particularly at the block level,and the lukewarm,half-hearted approach to democratic de-centralisation,” he wrote.

According to contributions to the Boloji website by Pradip Bhattacharya,editor of the book The Appu Papers and a former additional chief secretary of West Bengal,Appu put IAS officers into three approximate categories. In the first category were able and confident people willing to share responsibility and take decisions. In the second were people who follow the book,postpone decisions and would prefer to take no decisions to avoid mistakes. In the third were people who are unscrupulous and use power arbitrarily and abuse power.

According to the Appu classification,the first group comprised 35 per cent of IAS officers in the 1950s but this came down to 10 per cent in the 1990s; the second group had 60 per cent that came down to 40; the third had five per cent that rose to 50 per cent in the 1990s,says Bhattacharya.

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