Become Express Subscriber

Get Inspired: What impressed APJ Abdul Kalam in a civil servant?

APJ Abdul Kalam's questions to an IAS officer got replies reflecting compassion for weaker sections of society. Know the IAS officer whose answers and work caught Kalam's attention, and his district an international recognition.

upsc, apj abdul kalam, president kalam, ias officers, civil servants, Prashant Nair, upsc ethics, Operation Sulamani,Shri Venkatesham Burra, upsc essentials, get inspired, sakari naukri, government jobs, upsc prelims 2023, upsc mains 2022Kalam in his writings shared an episode of his interaction with one such civil servant who was compassionate for the marginalised section. (file image)

Compassion towards the weaker section of society is one of the qualities which society wants to see in civil servants. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in his writings shared an episode of his interaction with one such civil servant who was compassionate for the welfare of the marginalised both in letter and spirit.

APJ Abdul Kalam interacted with Shri Venkatesham Burra (IAS) who was the collector of Medak District in Andra Pradesh which is now in Telangana at Lead India 2020 training programme. Kalam asked Burra questions reflecting the role of civil servants in achieving good governance.

Lead India’s training programme was started by Prof. N.B. Sudershan Acharya. It aims to train youth so that they can become agents of change and transform society.

The biggest problem

Subscriber Only Stories

Kalam asked Burra about the biggest challenge he faced in his service and how did he find a solution to it. Burra replied that the biggest challenge he faced while serving in his district was extreme deprivation. He mentioned how very ill and physically challenged people face problems in earning their livelihood, which leads to starvation. Also, mentally challenged people living on the streets are not treated with dignity.

He told Kalam that the problem was very severe. The government schemes and programmes failed to address the issue.

The solutions

Shri Venkatesham Burra made an attempt to solve this problem by motivating communities and by involving NGOs.

1. Self-Help Group: Active participation by self-help groups led to the launch of a programme known as Aasara, that aimed at providing at least two meals a day to needy people. Burra informed that a self-help group identified the needy in every village of Medak. An unemployed woman was appointed to serve the meals. The local people and the self-help groups joined hands to arrange all materials required for the programme.


2. NGOs and district administration: A joint cooperation between the Medak district administration and NGOs gave birth to a programme called Ashraya. The objective behind this was to provide a life of dignity for the mentally challenged people who are homeless.

a. They were rescued from the streets and taken to hospitals for treatment.

b. They were provided with nutritious food and medical assistance so that they can regain their health.

c. Finally, they were reunited with their families.

The recognition


In 2007, Medak district administration became the first government agency in Asia to receive SA8000 certificate. This certificate was awarded by an organisation called Social Accountabilty International based in New York. It was one of the world’s first auditable social certifications for decent workplaces across all industrial sectors.

IAS’ suggestions for citizens

Kalam asked Burra if he had any suggestions for the citizens to help them in better service delivery. Burra’s reply included following points:

— For the well functioning of democracy and administration, it is essential for citizens to have awareness and have a questioning attitude.

— Citizens are legally entitled to a decent human life with their basic needs taken care of.

— Different pillars of our democracy should work together to make India the happiest nation in the world.


— Cooperation, participation and responsibility are the needs of the hour.

Key takeaways:

The words and initiatives of Shri Venkatesham Burra (IAS) highlight an important value of a civil servant- Compassion towards the weaker section of society. The weaker section includes poor, beggars, orphans, senior citizens, persons with disabilities etc. Such compassion means understanding and empathizing with the sufferings of the marginalized section of society. Moreover, it is needed for citizen-friendly and pro-people administration for delivering social justice. Burra’s replies and his examples of Aasara and Ashraya sprang from one important quality of a civil servant- compassion towards weaker section.


Compassion, originating from the Latin compati, literally means to suffer with another person. The connection of suffering with another person brings compassion beyond sympathy into the realm of empathy. Empathy is an ability to relate to another person’s pain as if it were your own. However, compassion is much more than empathy.

According to author Fredrick Buechner, “compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”


Coming together of NGOs, SHGs with district administration gives an important message of how various stake holders have to come together to bring out the society from misery. Here again, the role of a civil servant as a leader to motivate and implement his or her vision into reality by bringing various sectors together is very essential for the welfare of society.

Compassionate Kozhikode and Operation Sulimani by Prashant Nair (IAS) are other two initiatives which can be other two good examples reflecting a civil servant’s compassion towards the weaker section of society.

Kozhikode, in Kerala, launched a food programme called ‘Operation Sulaimani’. Its aim is to avoid food wastage and to provide free food to the poverty-stricken section of the district. The programme was introduced by Prasanth Nair IAS, the then District Collector of Kozhikodehas in association with the District Administration and Kerala Hotel and Restaurants Association in April 2015.

Prasanth Nair also came up with an idea of conceiving Compassionate Kozhikode (CK), a volunteer-driven project that provided various public services. Nair employed social media extensively to engage with the public. He inspired them to donate goods and volunteer their for the CK project.

These examples demonstrates that a committed and passionate civil service officer can definitely make a difference to societal well being and overall happiness.

Point to ponder: “Public service is recognized on the basis of tolerance and compassion towards the weaker section of the society.” Explain the values of tolerance and compassion in this context. (UPPSC 2019)

(sources: Pathways to Greatness by APJ Abdul Kalam, and

First published on: 07-08-2022 at 01:51:06 pm
Next Story

Karunanidhi death anniversary: M K Stalin leads rally in Chennai

Next Story