Jagdish Joshi IAS
The year was 1972 and I had recently joined General Administration Department as the Resident Under Secretary. That post carried some importance those days which entitled him to a rent-free accommodation and services of a peon twenty-four into seven. I was then occupying cottage C-1 Madame Cama Road right beside the iconic Air India Building at the Nariman Point on the Marine Drive, from the day I stepped into the city!
Besides the routine of handling ‘F’ Branch, also referred to as the Separate Department those days, the RUS functioned as the ‘eyes’ and ears of the Government after office hours. The keys of the Mantralaya were placed in a strong box which would be deposited at his residence after the rooms were locked securely after office hours. He received all wireless signals from the Collectors, Central Government Departments and the PMO at his residence and had to decide which message was important enough to demand Chief Secretary’s or Home Secretary’s immediate attention. He was the only officer of the state government who could wake up the CS at the dead of night and apprise him of communication received! As the junior most cadre officer in the Mantralaya, the RUS had much to feel important about.
Some two months on the job, and on one of my routine visits to his office, the CS enquired whether all was okay with my assignment. I must inform the readers, most of who may not have heard of this venerable gentleman of the erstwhile Indian Civil Service who was a formidable person and who had the reputation of inspiring fear and panic in all who happened to be in his presence by accident or invitation! Those days Mantralaya serfdom generally avoided the Fifth-Floor corner where this lion had his den and took circuitous routes to reach their destinations. I promptly reported like a good soldier that there was no challenge or work in the assignment.
Two days later I was summoned by the Joint Secretary Services in the General Administration Department (GAD), who incidentally performed the same tasks which the elevated Additional Chief Secretary performs these days. The JS informed me that I must immediately go over and take charge of the office of the Controller of Accommodation, GAD. I clutched the copy of the orders and with the help of the peon located the office of C of A in the Annex part of Mantralaya, possibly the fourth floor. The then incumbent to the post was a brother officer some five years my senior. He appeared extremely happy and relieved at this change of guard and after a few encouraging words on the challenges that awaited me, disappeared as if the ship was on fire.
I was soon to realize what my CS had put me into! In a way I have ever been grateful to him for what happened; the assignment brought me into direct contact with the Chief Minister! And how! The very first case that was placed before me for consideration was sponsored by the Chief Ministers Secretariat and I was told by the senior office Superintendent in my office that there were six more of the same genres. I spent half a day studying the file which sat five inches thick on my desk. I perused the Special Act which applied to the office of the Controller of Accommodation and then adjourned the case till after lunch, which I enjoyed with my wife in that lovely cottage by the sea side. On getting back I summoned the presenting officer and cross examined him on all aspects of law, custom and precedents applicable to the case.
Imagine dear reader yourself in the shoes of that undersecretary, informing your CS and CM that the proposal sponsored by the CMS was not worth approving!! To explain the case very briefly, CM was under pressure from seven of his former senior ministers who had been blackballed by New Delhi and thus denied cabinet berths in the ministry constituted after the Assembly elections in 1971, to allot them requisitioned flats in Malabar Hill and Nepean Sea Road areas as they were required to vacate their palatial bungalows. Each had selected a flat and sent their requests to CM. CM’s office had sent these down to C of A with remarks, ‘process and put up’. I picked up my pen and recorded a brief note that in the circumstances brought out by the office and supported by observations of the Hon. High Court of Bombay, the requests made by the former members of the cabinet could not be countenanced! Next morning, I was summoned by the CS and confronted the lion in his den.
“I see that you have turned down the proposal from the CM”.
“You expect me to endorse this now?”
“Of course, Sir.”
Okay I will go along, but if CM desires discussion-you will go and face him understand.”
The very next day I was summoned by the Private Secretary to CM. The post had not been upgraded in March 1972.
“Jagdish what have you done to CM’s proposal? He is going to make our lives very difficult.”
“Sir I have placed the facts on the file and my advice is based on precedents and judicial pronouncements.”
“Yes, but in the world of politics such rules do not apply.”
“Then what would be your considered advice to me on this case. Can you spell it out?”
“Let’s meet the CM, he has called us for discussion.”
“Sir why don’t you discuss and let me know how he wants us to process the case.”
“No, no. You have to face him. This is a learning process for young officers.”
We drove up Walkeshwar Road and down the Ridge to Varsha, Chief Ministers bungalow. Those days CM’s residence used to be an oasis of peace and tranquility; out of bounds for the horde of petitioners, politicians and favour seekers like it has become today. One could call on the CM only by appointment. The residence peon took us through the hall to the patio above the sunken garden. Mr. Vasantrao Naik was relaxing in a garden chair with one arm in plaster cast from an injury suffered recently in a helicopter mishap at Paithan, Aurangabad. I was introduced by Mr. Mohoni, the Private Secretary and the CM responded by saying that he knew Joshi and had met him in Aurangabad. That meeting will make another story some day; but what a pleasant surprise that the CM cared to remember such junior officers as Assistant Collectors!!
There were a few cabinet proposals for CM’s approval and thereafter my file came up for discussion. There was a brief discussion! CM smiled and turned to his Private Secretary and said,
“Mohoni, Joshi is right. We cannot allot flats requisitioned under the Act of 1948 to MLA’s and ex Ministers. High Court had quashed an order in 1955 and observed that allotting flats requisitioned under the said Act to sitting MLAS’s does not sub serve public purpose and is therefore illegal. We will have to find other ways to accommodate these ex-ministers.”
We got out of Varsha with my tail up in the air. Of course, I did not realise then the full significance of what Mr. Naik said that day in 1972. It’s only when I look back and relate it to the present state of affairs where officers fear to tell the truth and record the same on files and the political class disregards rule of law, that I look up and thank Mr. Naik for encouraging us to put hard facts on record.