Published: 19th February 2019
Why no VIP will be launching retired bureaucrat Anil Swarup's book 'Not Just a Civil Servant'
Anil Swarup, former civil servant, talks about his post-retirement plans, his latest book and his plans to set up a nexus of good
After a stellar career where he served as Director General, Labour Welfare, Secretary, Ministry of Coal and Secretary and in the MHRD, among others, Anil Swarup retired in June, last year. As someone who makes the most of every moment, we are not surprised when Swarup says, “Post-retirement, life couldn't have been better.” The man who gave 38 years of his life to the service of India will now launch a book titled Not Just a Civil Servant. Though it will be launched in New Delhi on February 23, it will also be launched in six cities of India where Swarup served. So, what is this book all about? We caught up with the man who joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1981 to find out. Excerpts:
So, how did the book come about?
I've been in the habit of writing one page every morning and I continue to do this. It's a record of the events of the previous day and sometimes my thoughts as well. It helps me recollect as and when I want to write something.
Speaking up: Anil Swarup at the ThinkEdu Conclave 2019 | (Pic: Kishore)
What is it about?
The bottom line of the book Not Just a Civil Servant is that if a civil servant wants, he can deliver. There are huge problems on the way and the book is a narration of those problems, but it is also about making things happen. There are indeed huge challenges that a civil servant faces and I faced them in my career of 38 years — almost any challenge a bureaucrat can think of. Be it grappling with terrorists, floods, politicians — everything. In fact, the last chapter of my book says that if I can ever be born again, I would like to be an IAS officer all over again. It was an exhilarating experience.
Tell us about the launch.
On February 23, the book will be launched in New Delhi. The book will not be launched by a VIP though it will be launched in six locations of the country. The idea is to meet everyone I have interacted with during my career. On March 5, the book will be launched in Lucknow, where I spent half my career. I also used to visit Kolkata, Bengaluru, Jaipur and Mumbai, so the book will be launched in these locations as well, sans a VIP. It will be an interaction with all those who I have worked with, I personally have sent more than 5,000 invites. I did have this plan in mind to meet everyone who I had worked with and some of them even find a mention in the book. It's an expression of gratitude to the several wonderful people I was blessed to work with.
Why do you think people should continue to aspire to be in the IAS?
It's because of the opportunities it offers. Ultimately, the bottom line is what gives you a kick, what gives you satisfaction, everyone has their own measure. In this context, IAS fits the bill. I don't think there is any service in this world that allows you to thrive irrespective of your competence and integrity levels. If you are incompetent and dishonest, you can still thrive, but if you are honest and efficient, you can survive, thrive, make changes and derive satisfaction. IAS offers enormous amounts of opportunities to do anything or do nothing and yet rise. Satisfaction doesn't come in terms of rising, but in doing things that make you feel good. There are many instances in my book where I have called these people my very own Bharat Ratnas.
All in a row: Anil Swarup (extreme left) was charing a panel called What does India's new education policy really need? (Pic: Ashwin Prasath)
What do you think about the UPSC as a body?
I am extremely proud of the way UPSC functions, it's one of the institutions that has stood the test of time. I also feel that UPSC can be put to much better use and that's where decision-making needs to be made outside the UPSC. For example, if there are recruitments to happen at a senior-level and if UPSC is used to prepare a panel, then probably efficiency and integrity will become the parameter for selecting officers rather than allegiance. Because sometimes, there is an impression that some of the postings are made on the basis of allegiance and not merit, and that is why institutions suffer. A recent example is CBI, where two top officials fought in public. It's unthinkable, why should that happen? If officers are selected through a process where merit is key, I think such incidents will not happen. UPSC as a recruiting body is absolutely amazing, but we can put it to more use. I am of the view that civil servants should be recruited at a much younger age because post-30, they are hard-boiled eggs. If we select them at the age of 26 years, some sort of change in attitudes and behaviour can happen. For me, important in an aspirant is not his intellectual ability, which is judged through the exam anyway, but attitude and behaviour are also important.
At the core, what do you think is the issue with the Indian education system?
The teacher lies at the pivot of the education system and we have messed this up big time. How? By pre-service training where BEd colleges don't exist and yet give degrees — this is the biggest mafia in the country. Also, the selection of teachers to government service is a racket. One Chief Minister is behind bars for this. When the teacher gets selected, what sort of training do we provide? If they do get trained, do they go to schools or not? It's a huge problem. What has happened is that we have got the child to the school, but we are not able to give high-quality education. There are a number of reasons for that, but primary reasons are our inability to address the problem of training teachers. It's always easy to come up with ideas, but we must understand that for any idea to sustain itself, it has to be politically acceptable, socially desirable, technologically feasible, financially viable and administratively doable. Until there is action on the ground, the common man is not impacted by debates. I have always believed in action.
What can we expect from you next?
I am trying to create a nexus of good. There is so much negativity around us and it seems like the nation wants to know only negative things so we have to create a parallel paradigm of positivity — of locating good work and understanding it, the how and why of it, and replicating it. I am working on launching a portal where all positive stories can be housed so people believe that good can happen.
Keen listener: Anil Swarup during his session | (Pic: Ashwin Prasath)
Punchlines by Anil Swarup -
- There were failures and there were disappointments and that's how life is. I have learnt from them all.
- I always tell teachers to encourage children to not compare themselves with others, they have to compete only with themselves and learn from others
- We are so fond of policy that we forget about implementation. The country doesn't need policies, it needs action plans
- My passion is to see how technology can be used to reduce the drudgery of the common man. I am convinced that technology can transform how governance is delivered